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Tigers believe they can handle injuries better this season

Tigers believe they can handle injuries better this season

October 17th, 2013 in News

COLUMBIA, Mo. - The Missouri Tigers hope this time around will be a little bit better.

Missouri limped to a 5-7 record in its inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference due in part to a rash of injuries suffered in 2012.

Starting quarterback James Franklin was in and out of the lineup with various injuries. Missouri was forced to patch together a different offensive line almost every week. Running back Henry Josey missed the entire season.

The Tigers seemed to have kicked that injury bug in 2013 until last Saturday against Georgia, when Franklin went down with a sprained shoulder that will cause him to miss three to five weeks, and cornerback E.J. Gaines left with a strained quadriceps.

So that poses the question: Is Missouri better suited to handle injuries this time around?

"It doesn't matter. You better be," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. "Most times since we've been here we've handled injuries pretty good. Every injury is different. Position, depth, all those things (come into play). Bottom line, it doesn't matter. (We're) wasting our time talking about it."

While the head man might not give it much thought, the general consensus among several Tigers is Missouri is better off in 2013.

"Last year you look at it, James got hurt, but how many offensive linemen and stuff were hurt?" said Maty Mauk, the redshirt freshman quarterback who will start in Franklin's place. "We got hit with a wrecking ball. This year everybody (else) is healthy."

Missouri's starting offensive linemen - left tackle Justin Britt, left guard Max Copeland, center Evan Boehm, right guard Connor McGovern and right tackle Mitch Morse - have combined to make 28 of the 30 possible starts this season, with only Copeland missing a pair of games. That entire unit will be together again Saturday as No. 14 Missouri hosts No. 22 Florida (11:21 a.m., KMIZ-TV).

"Compared to a year ago we're significantly different," Pinkel said. "We had gone through three centers. We don't even want to go there, discuss that. I think just the continuity of playing, playing together as a group, you're going to get better. ... The consistency at that position certainly helps the quarterback, there's no question about it."

That continuity on the offensive line is especially important when you have a quarterback making his first career start, as Mauk will be doing Saturday.

"We trust Maty Mauk," Pinkel said. "It's a different type of trust. You trust he's going to go out and do an excellent job. He's got to go out and prove himself. I trust all my guys."

With a healthy offensive line and a talented yet unproven quarterback, the Tigers believe they can handle the challenge of going forward without their starting signal-caller.

"We know what happened last year and we're not going to let the same thing happen," Missouri wide receiver Marcus Lucas said. "We'd never blame anything on injuries. It had a lot to do with just focus, the mental side of things versus the physical side of things.

"We have other guys that are healthy now and we have confidence in Maty or whoever the quarterback may be, we have confidence in those guys and we'll continue to do the things that we're doing.

"We just have to step up, the guys around him - the receivers, the running backs, the offensive line - those guys have to step up. And the defense has to give us more opportunities to be on the field. We're not going to change anything we're doing. It's working."

Add Franklin and Missouri quarterbacks coach Andy Hill to the list of people who think the Tigers are better prepared to handle the injuries this season.

"I think it was good and bad that it happened last year," Franklin said. "I think we can handle it very well and we can respond definitely a lot better than last year and I'm hoping it will play out like that."

Added Hill: "We're 6-0. I think it's certainly a better situation. You had different people hurt on the offensive line, which shuffles guys around. When you move from position to position, it makes it more difficult for everybody. I think we are (better suited to handle injuries), and we'll find out."

Missouri will have the first answer to that question Saturday against Florida.

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