COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Missouri’s season opener will be a proving ground for the 24th-ranked Tigers’ young receiving corps.
Last season, Missouri relied on Jimmie Hunt, Bud Sasser and Darius White, who caught all but two of Maty Mauk’s 25 touchdown passes. With all three players gone, experience at the position is limited.
Coach Gary Pinkel does not seem concerned heading into the opener against Southeast Missouri State on Saturday.
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”From the spring to right now, we’ve grown a lot,” Pinkel said. ”You’re never going to hear me say the word `young.’ We expect them to go out and play.”
J’Mon Moore dealt with a sprained shoulder for most of fall camp, but will start at outside receiver. Moore has two career catches for 33 yards.
Freshman Keyon Dilosa will start in place of Wesley Leftwich, who sprained his knee in the team’s second scrimmage. Leftwich had three catches for 36 yards last season, and is the lone senior at the position.
Nate Brown is the leading returning receiver with just five career catches for 45 yards. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore played on the outside last season, but will now start at slot receiver.
”He has size enough to be able to block,” Pinkel said. ”There are more things going on than out on the perimeter, and he’s the most experienced receiver we have. We put him in there because of his experience.”
Including Dilosa, five freshmen receivers are listed on Missouri’s depth chart. DeSean Blair, Emmanuel Hall, Thomas Richard and Ray Wingo will all see their first collegiate action against SEMO. Each had impressive performances in fall scrimmages.
Blair caught seven passes for 86 yards in limited action due to a sprained ankle. Richard caught five passes for 83 yards and touchdown, and Wingo had six catches for 127 yards and a team-best two touchdowns.
Missouri has a lot more experience at tight end, which could help spread the field.
Sean Culkin caught 20 passes for 174 yards and one touchdown last season in an offense that primarily utilized his pass-blocking abilities. Jason Reese has one career 12-yard catch, but played in 13 of 14 games last year.
”We’re mismatches,” Culkin said. ”We’re big bodies that can run, we’re physical, and we can block. We’re just trying to use that mismatch.”
Russell Hansbrough is also a pass-catching threat out of the backfield with 11 catches for 58 yards last season.
In 2014, 43.5 percent of Missouri play-calls were pass plays. Mauk’s 53.4 percent completion rate was among the lowest in the SEC last season. The Tiger’s young receivers will need to establish themselves as legitimate threats if that number is to improve in 2015.