Redshirt freshman quarterback Corbin Berkstresser struggled mightily in relief of starter James Franklin in last week’s 19-15 loss to Vanderbilt.
Berkstresser completed just 9-of-30 attempts against the Commodore defense, as the Tiger offense was stagnant most of the game following Franklin’s departure after two possessions.
After the game, Berkstresser said he played nervous and being thrust into action left him a bit overwhelmed.
Franklin’s sidelined with a sprained MCL in his left knee, allotting Berkstresser the entire week of practice to prepare to lead the Tiger offense onto the field against No. 1 Alabama and the Crimson Tide’s vaunted defense.
Saturday will be Berkstresser’s second-career start. The lone prior start was in Missouri’s 24-20 defeat of Arizona State four weeks ago, in which the 6-foot-3, 230-pound signal-caller completed 21-of-41 passes for 198 yards.
True freshman Maty Mauk’s name appeared on the team depth chart for the first time this week. The nation’s all-time most prolific high school quarterback is listed as Berkstresser’s backup.
However, coach Gary Pinkel said Monday the team hopes to preserve Mauk’s redshirt. If Berkstresser were to suffer an injury of his own, Mauk relieving Berkstresser would be dependent upon the score and time of the game at the time of injury.
"One of my friends called me and asked if we were going to burn Maty Mauk's redshirt," Pinkel said. "I said, 'If he helps our team win, that's not burning it.' … Now, if he plays two plays and you don't play him the rest of the year, that's burning it. We've just got to look at all the possibilities."
One possibility is Berkstresser’s helmet coming off – just like Franklin’s did twice against Georgia – which, according to NCAA rules, would force Berkstresser to sit out the ensuing snap.
How does Pinkel plan to handle that situation, if it were to arise?
“We’ll have a plan in place for that,” Pinkel said.
It is highly unlikely the team would insert Mauk for just one play. In the event of Berkstresser’s helmet coming off, look for either tailback Kendial Lawrence or receiver T.J. Moe (a high school quarterback) to take a direct snap.
While Mauk has yet to take a collegiate snap, Franklin did heap praise on the rookie during fall camp.
“He moves around in the pocket pretty good, so he can find lanes, escape pressure and make a throw,” Franklin said. “As a young player, sometimes it’s hard to read the defense right away, but he’s done a real good job of it.”
In the same interview, I asked Franklin if he thought Mauk could be prepared to play had he been thrust into the situation.
“He’s way ahead of where I was,” Franklin said. “As a freshman, he’s a lot better quarterback than I was. He has better footwork and he also has a stronger arm.”
Pinkel rolls out praise for Tide
Alabama, a team Pinkel said Wednesday “has no weaknesses” comes to Columbia with the nation’s No. 1 ranking.
Pinkel continued to say Alabama’s distinction as the nation’s top team is no farce, saying the Crimson Tide roster is one of the best personnel teams he’s ever seen.
And it starts with the defensive line, Pinkel said, a unit that propels a pass-rush that has 16 sacks through five games. It’s a defensive line facing Missouri’s injury-plagued, mediocre offensive line, which will feature its fifth different combination of starters this year on Saturday.
Alabama’s defense ranks first nationally in both scoring and total defense.
Franklin is out “a few weeks” with his sprained MCL, Pinkel said. Starting center Mitch Morse is out with a similar timeline for the same injury. Jack Meiners, who has started at both guard and tackle for the Tigers this season, underwent knee surgery Monday morning and is out indefinitely.
Starting middle linebacker and leading tackler Will Ebner, who was not on the injury report leading up to the game but sat out of last weekend with a hamstring injury, appears set to return to action, as he is listed as this week’s starter.