By Joe Vozzelli
Corbin Berkstresser now knows what it means to be No. 1 on the depth chart.
With James Franklin sidelined for this week, possibly longer, because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, Berkstresser replaced Franklin as No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart for Saturday’s game against Alabama.
The 6-foot-3-inch redshirt freshman quarterback had his first experience with being the No. 1 quarterback during Monday’s media day. When Berkstresser walked out from the training room at the Mizzou Athletic Training Complex reporters quickly circled around him, aiming their audio recorders at him and asking him question after question after question. He answered questions for nearly 30 minutes and laughed afterword about how long it took.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Berkstresser’s role is one of most difficult in football, especially for a redshirt freshman.
“We ask a lot from our quarterbacks. I think he’s very capable. He’s not the first quarterback to have a tough day,” Pinkel said.
Pinkel described Berkstresser as an “intense competitor,” and said sometimes that attribute isn’t always the best thing for a quarterback.
Berkstresser admitted there are times when he can be too hard on himself after a missed pass or mistake and that he needs to work on moving on from bad plays much quicker.
He also admitted practicing with the No. 1 offense all week should help him be sharper when Missouri plays the No. 1 Crimson Tide (5-0) 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Faurot Field.
Berkstresser, who was told Sunday that he’d be Missouri’s starter, hasn’t had the benefit of forewarning the other three times he’s played quarterback this season.
With Missouri leading 41-3 against Southeastern Louisiana, he took over for Franklin in the third quarter of the Tigers’ home opener. Berkstresser also came in for an injured Franklin in the first quarter of Missouri’s last contest against Vanderbilt.
Berkstresser started against Arizona State, although Franklin was listed at the top of the depth chart all week. Franklin missed the game because of an inflamed bursa sac in his right throwing shoulder. Berkstresser was told five minutes before kickoff that he was the starter.
Berkstresser has had mixed results thus far in those games.
He struggled in Missouri’s last game against Vanderbilt, throwing for 189 yards and a touchdown. He wasn’t spectacular against Arizona State, either, finishing the game with 198 yards and a rushing touchdown. For the season, Berkstresser has completed 50 percent of his passes.
By comparison, Franklin has passed for 805 yards, completing 61.3 percent of his passes. He’s thrown four touchdowns against two interceptions.
Berkstresser hopes a full week of practice with the No. 1 offense will help.
“Definitely the extra reps make a big deal. It’s a little different being able to throw to T.J. (Moe) and the other (starters),” he said.
Berkstresser also said he battled nerves throughout the game against Vanderbilt, something he doesn’t expect to be a problem against Alabama because of the extra game experience.
“That really wasn’t me. I felt uneasy about myself. I’m not that guy,” he said.
Berkstresser may have to deal with a different issue against the Crimson Tide, though.
Pinkel joked about how he’s received a plethora of text messages this week, asking him what he’ll do if Berkstresser’s helmet comes off during the game. The NCAA instituted a rule before this season requiring a player to come off the field for a play if his helmet comes off during play.
Missouri has already confronted this problem earlier in the year. Franklin’s helmet popped off during a quarterback sneak against Georgia. Berkstresser filled in for one play.
“I never remember a helmet coming off a quarterback since I’ve been coaching. It’s that unusual,” Pinkel said after the Georgia game.
Just in case the unusual scenario strikes again, Missouri could go with a couple of different options at quarterback for one play.
True freshman quarterback Maty Mauk, who’s the backup for the Alabama game, is considered a candidate to be redshirted. If he appears in any game in place of Berkstresser — for even one play — Missouri wouldn’t be able to redshirt him
Pinkel is wary of burning Mauk’s redshirt eligibility.
Pinkel might go with wide receiver T.J. Moe, who was a quarterback in high school. Tailback Kendial Lawrence may be used in a wildcat formation, where the running back lines up in the shotgun formation behind the center.
Pinkel didn’t reveal any specifics on what would be done, saying the team would formulate a plan later in the week.
“Coach (David) Yost talked this past week with James (Franklin) just to make sure your helmet is tight. I assume that will be a big thing (Yost) talks about this week,” Berkstresser said.
“If (Mauk) helps our team win, it’s not burning (the redshirt). If you play him for two plays and he doesn’t play for the rest of the year, that’s burning it,” Pinkel said.
Berkstresser did take a few big hits late in Missouri’s game against Vanderbilt. With the Commodores ahead 19-15 and time running out, Berkstresser threw four straight passes into the end zone, all of which ended with the redshirt freshman quarterback unloading the pass just before a Vanderbilt defender hit him.
“I pride myself on being able to stand in there and throw the ball while I’m being hit. I’ve been doing that since I was a little kid. So, it doesn’t really bother me anymore. I just hope it stays that way,” Berkstresser said.