By The Associated Press
When Missouri receiver Marcus Lucas prepares for games, he envisions a perfect play – catching the football in stride, turning around and sprinting through the secondary toward the end zone.
With 1:31 remaining in the first half against Georgia and the score tied at 3, he pulled it off, catching a pass at the 27-yard line and juking around a defender en route to the goal line, breaking the game’s slogging pace.
“It’s an adrenaline rush, for sure,” Lucas said. “You see nothing but the end zone. You don’t see the guys who you have to make miss or anything, the guys on your team blocking downfield. You just want to get to the end zone, do whatever you can to get the score.”
After Missouri’s offense struggled in a 41-20 loss Saturday, the Tigers hope to see more quick strikes from Lucas and L’Damian Washington, who scored untouched on a 69-yard pass early in the third quarter. The two juniors are consistently starting for the first time in their careers following the loss of Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson to graduation. Both are tall and lean, but don’t attract as much fanfare as vocal senior T.J. Moe or prized newcomer Dorial Green-Beckham.
“We’re counting on them,” receivers coach Andy Hill said. “I think last year, both those guys rotated in and played good football and made some plays for us. But it’s different when you’re the guy at the front of the line.”
Lucas caught 23 passes for 414 yards last season, including five touchdowns that tied for the team lead. The highlight came when he used every inch of his 6-5, 215-pound frame to haul in the game-winning score in overtime at Texas A&M, an 11-yard fade pass.
The 6-4, 195-pound Washington finished the 2011 season with 20 receptions for 364 yards and three touchdowns. His 18.2 yards per catch barely eclipsed Lucas (18.0), but finished well ahead of Jackson (13.1).
“There’s not too many people who can catch him,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “And I think you saw that (Saturday), he just ran away from everybody.”
Long receptions can instantly raise the spirits of the offense, an effect Pinkel described as “huge.” Until Lucas’ touchdown catch, Missouri had only 62 yards of total offense.
“It’s momentum, that’s what the game’s about,” Lucas said. “Whenever you get a big score like that, it just helps our team. We started clicking a little bit more, started moving the ball downfield after that. It’s just something you have to keep consistent throughout the game.”
Consistency is something they’ve been working on in the offseason, learning especially from Moe, whom Washington considers his extended brother.
That bond between Missouri’s receivers is helped by the different skills each brings, whether it’s Lucas or Washington deep or Moe in the flat. They all know their roles, and no matter who scores, all of the receivers start “jumping all over the place,” Lucas says.
There’s only one goal, and that’s to win, something perhaps more difficult this week coming off an emotional loss in Missouri’s first Southeastern Conference game. The Tigers must regroup quickly against an Arizona State team that dealt them a bitter overtime defeat in Tempe last year. Although the Sun Devils lost their top five tacklers, they already have eight sacks through two games and lead the nation with six interceptions.
“We’ll be fine,” Lucas said. “We just have to learn from last week. Just focus on preparing each and every week. We just have to get better each and every day. Crescendo throughout the whole season.”