COLUMBIA, Mo. — Pat Washington knows the Southeastern Conference, from his days as a quarterback at Auburn in the early 1980s and as a coach at the likes of Auburn, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Kentucky.
He also knows wide receivers, having coached Jordy Nelson at Kansas State and Peerless Price, Donte Stallworth and Robert Meachem at Tennessee.
So his first impression of the Missouri wide receivers after being hired as the Tigers’ receivers coach in January meant something.
“I thought that we had potentially one of the better receiver corps in the SEC,” Washington says.
The coach’s first impression has proved to be on point as the Mizzou receiving corps, led by seniors Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington and sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham, has been a driving force during the Tigers’ impressive 8-1 start.
“We have been playmakers all year and we’ve been pretty consistent in most of the games that we have played in,” Lucas says. “We are just out there having fun. It is not really about who is getting the most catches or most touchdowns or anything like that. It is just about having fun, and we all enjoy watching each other having success.”
Lucas, a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder from Liberty, Mo., leads Mizzou with 43 catches, which ranks sixth in the SEC. He has 522 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Lucas has 115 catches for 1,468 yards and 10 touchdowns in 44 games with the Tigers.
“Marcus is really playing well, and doing a lot of good things,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel says. “We are very fortunate to have a receiving corps, probably six or seven guys that I think are really, really good players.”
L’Damian Washington (no relation to the coach), a 6-4, 205-pound fifth-year senior from Louisiana, has 36 catches and leads the Tigers with 680 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. He ranks second in the SEC in receiving touchdowns and fifth in receiving yardage. He now has 1,522 receiving yards and 14 scores in 46 games at Mizzou.
Green-Beckham, a highly touted 6-6, 220-pounder from Hillcrest High School in Springfield, Mo., has 33 catches for 479 yards and five touchdowns.
“I’m happy with the way all the guys went out there and played,” Pinkel says. “I’m happy we’re behind Maty (Mauk). I’m happy with our group. We’re out there fighting, really. We’re out there making plays. You can see it, each and every one of us, we’re out there trying to make big plays with every catch.”
Mizzou is tied with South Carolina for second in the SEC in passing touchdowns (20), is third in completions (178) and fifth in passing yardage per game (262.8) despite having used two quarterbacks in James Franklin and then Maty Mauk following Franklin’s injury.
The Tigers’ receiving corps has continued to make plays whenever those guys have had the opportunity. Green-Beckham, Washington and Lucas each caught touchdown passes from Mauk in a 31-3 win over Tennessee last weekend.
“The thing with them, it shows what they do in practice and they bust their butts,” Mauk says. “It’s showing on the field how hard they work, and I know they are going to keep getting better and better. That’s the scary thing. Like I said the other day, we are yet to play our best game. When you look at the top five guys, top four guys, and then you look at who’s backing them up, they are almost just as good. We are eight, nine deep. They’ve been busting their butts. It’s a tremendous group to be able to have around you.”
Pinkel has said on several occasions that Mauk, a redshirt freshman, has benefited from having healthy and experienced players around him. The offensive line, running backs and wide receivers have all stepped up and provided strong contributions since Franklin injured his shoulder.
Washington’s wideout group has drawn considerable praise from Missouri’s opponents, including this week’s foe.
“You gotta eat your Wheaties, man,” Kentucky safeties coach Bradley Dale Peveto told the Louisville Courier-Journal this week. “They’re as good as we’ve faced. They’re good. They’re tall. They run great routes. They’ve got great speed. They compete. They’re very physical on the perimeter. This is as good a group of receivers as I’ve ever coached against.”
The Southeastern Conference has certainly taken notice of the Tigers.
So, yeah, Washington’s first impression was on the mark.
“We’ve rised to the occasion,” the coach says. “I think when we’ve needed plays, those guys have made plays.”
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.