E.J. Gaines had one more bit of advice for Aarion Penton.
“He just told me, ‘It’s your time,’” Penton said. “Just be yourself and play. And that’s just what I did.”
Senior captain and cornerback Gaines, who injured his quadricep against Georgia, had mentored true-freshman corner Penton up until this moment. Over and over in practice, Gaines critiqued Penton’s technique, shaping him into a future starting cornerback.
With Gaines down, Penton got the chance to start. Like redshirt freshman Maty Mauk making his first start, Penton didn’t let the pressure faze him.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound cornerback collected three tackles, including one for a 2-yard loss, and an interception in the first quarter to help propel Missouri’s win over Florida.
“It was amazing,” Penton said. “Couldn’t imagine a better first start for Mizzou.”
Penton’s interception came on a tip from a slant route, which he caught and was swiftly tackled. The pick led to sophomore Andrew Baggett’s first of five field goals, putting the Tigers ahead 10-3.
Clearly, Penton didn’t have any first-game jitters.
Penton said that the front seven linemen helped pressure the Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy, which caused him to make mistakes. He said the linemen were just dogs on the field.
“Coach (Dave) Steckel tells them to pin their ears back just go,” Penton said. “That’s what they do. As a corner, I appreciate that. As a defense, we work together and get the job done.”
Penton contributed to a defense that limited Florida to 151 total yards. Murphy threw a mere 92 yards and went 15-29.
He was sacked six times during the game.
As for Penton, coach Gary Pinkel smiled when he talked about his first performance after the game.
“He’s got a real positive personality,” Pinkel said. “When he makes mistakes, he doesn’t beat himself up.”
After his team’s victory, Penton said Gaines, a humble man of few words, was proud of his performance.
“(He said) great job,” Penton said. “Great game. Way to be aggressive.”