COLUMBIA, MO. • Of the 80,000 or so people at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, Missouri quarterback Drew Lock might have been the least surprised when walk-on wide receiver Barrett Banister snagged a crucial third-down pass in the second half.
Banister, a redshirt freshman reserve, expected to make the catch, too, Lock figured.
But once the Tigers could exhale and celebrate the 38-17 victory, Lock cornered the redshirt freshman for a moment of truth.
“I talked to him after the game and said, ‘Barrett, that has to be the coolest thing you’ve ever done, right?’” Lock recalled Tuesday. “He said, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty cool. Heck, yeah.’”
Injuries have tested Missouri’s depth at receiver and tight end since August, but catches like Banister’s on Saturday have calmed some nerves within the offense. On third-and-9 Banister snared Lock’s pass for 12 yards to get the Tigers inside the red zone. They’d score another touchdown three plays later for a commanding 35-10 lead.
It was a month ago when offensive coordinator Derek Dooley grew weary of questions about Emanuel Hall’s lingering groin injury and shifted the focus to Mizzou’s supply of backups.
“We need everybody,” Dooley said Oct. 9, after the Tigers played their first of four straight games without Hall. “I told you all that earlier in the year and all you wanted to talk about was E Hall. We all need them to develop. We can’t say, ‘Well, they’re two freshmen. Oh, he’s a walk-on.’ Hey, these are our guys.”
Those guys emerged Saturday.
On a day when Mizzou welcomed Hall back into the mix, Lock threw passes to 11 targets, including a couple completions to freshman slot receiver Dominic Gicinto and a 41-yard TD to freshman Kam Scott. Even freshman tight end Daniel Parker Jr., a blocking specialist who played defensive end not long ago, caught his first career pass.
“It was a challenge,” Dooley said Tuesday. “All those guys have roles and you try to build roles specifically for the things they do well. But that’s our job. We have a lot of good players. Banister went in and made a huge catch on third down. Daniel Parker was a phenom blocking. You know what, that’s when you have a good unit, where it doesn’t matter who goes in.
“If you stay ready you don’t have to get ready.”
Even though Hall is back immersed in the offense — he caught four balls for 77 yards and a touchdown at Florida — the Tigers (5-4, 1-4 SEC) aren’t out of the woods with offensive injuries heading into Saturday’s 11 a.m. home game against Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-4). Mizzou lost starting tight end Albert Okwuegbunam to a shoulder injury in the first half Saturday. He didn’t practice Tuesday and will be further evaluated this week, MU coach Barry Odom said. Tight end Kendall Blanton missed his second straight game Saturday with a knee injury but returned to practice Tuesday in a limited role. Tailback Tyler Badie also missed Tuesday’s practice while recovering from a sprained foot suffered on his one and only play at Florida.
The Tigers have creatively enlisted help at tight end. After freshman Messiah Swinson went down with a season-ending knee injury in August, the staff talked Parker into switching to offense. As a former offensive lineman in high school, the Blue Springs, Mo., native picked up the blocking assignments naturally.
“I like hitting people,” he said. “As soon as I get where I know, OK, I’m going to pull and hit somebody, I’m licking my chops.”
In the fourth quarter at Florida, unbeknownst to Lock, Parker was in the game on a play where Lock’s read took him to Parker’s route.
“I didn’t look to see exactly who was in the game at the time,” Lock said. “I went to go throw it and made eye contact with Daniel and was like, ‘Oh my. I’m throwing it to Daniel.’”
Lock called the pass his worst of the day, but fortunately Parker reached around his ankles and made a juggling catch for 3 yards. Parker said it was his first catch in a game since his freshman year of high school, when he intercepted a pass while playing linebacker.
“I’m not really a selfish guy,” he said. “If I don’t get the ball, I don’t get the ball. That’s not up to me. That’s up to Dooley. I’m just here to block, really.”
With Blanton out, the Tigers have also used senior offensive lineman Sam Bailey as a blocking tight end, though he, too, caught a pass last month at South Carolina, a 21-yard screamer just short of the goal line.
“He’s living the dream,” right tackle Paul Adams said. “I’m very, very jealous. Sometimes as an offensive lineman you wish that was you. He’s doing an incredible job.”
Should the Tigers be without Blanton and Okwuegbunam again Saturday or beyond, Dooley trusts his makeshift tight ends as blockers. As receivers, though?
“I’m sure the coaches at Vanderbilt aren’t worried about the vertical threat at our tight end position, but maybe we’ll shock them,” Dooley said, laughing. “Sam caught a nice seam route at South Carolina, so you never know. But they’ve done a great job. It’s team. That’s what team is. The team needs you and maybe it’s not the role you want to be in, but they’re responding.”