Elvis Fisher, Missouri brace for the tide

In the middle of an injury-plagued season, the Tigers will host No. 1 Alabama.
Senior left tackle Elvis Fisher blocks for freshman quarterback Corbin Berkstresser during Saturday's home game against Vanderbilt. Fisher returned for his sixth year of eligibility this season after sitting out last season.

Elvis Fisher allows for no pity. There can be no pity with the land’s most dreaded beast upon him and his team, ready to sink its jaws in.

Alabama has lost only six games in the past five seasons. Through five games this year, the nation’s top-ranked Crimson Tide has outscored opponents 201 to 35. Vegas calls for a Saturday thrashing in Columbia to the tune of 21.5 points.

The reigning national champions are coming off a bye weekend. The machine will be recharged and ready to power again.

On Saturday night, after the Tigers’ 19-15 loss to Vanderbilt, Fisher emerged out of the locker room having played his first game in four weeks. The left tackle in his sixth year at MU had been out with a strained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

“Elvis is out there limping along,” Pinkel said after the game. “He’s just playing because he’s tough and he wants to help this football team. Hats off to him for battling even though it’s difficult.”

It was the second game Fisher had played in since the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee shredded during a one-on-one drill in the mid-summer of 2011.

“How are you feeling physically?” he was asked.

“Yeah, just …” he said pausing and sighing slightly. “Just a little sore. Just a little sore, man. … I’ll be all right.”

“What kind of faith do you have?” he was asked.

“I don't ever go into a game thinking we’re ever going to lose,” he said. “I don't think anybody does.”

Fisher allows for no pity here. But traces of mercy have certainly been tough for him and his group of offensive linemen to find.

Redshirt freshman Taylor Chappell and redshirt senior Travis Ruth, an expected starter, went down during fall camp. Senior Jack Meiners, listed as a starter throughout the summer, has dealt with a nagging knee injury over the season and is out against Alabama. Redshirt sophomore Mitch Morse left last weekend’s game and is expected to miss the coming weeks with a strained MCL.

“This isn’t the fun part of playing or coaching,” coach Gary Pinkel said after the Vanderbilt game. “(But) how we handle it is going to be the most important thing.”

In Morse’s place will now be Brad McNulty, the redshirt freshman who was called into the Tigers’ clash with Georgia five weeks ago when his roommate, Fisher, left the game. At one point in that game, McNulty’s left foot came out of his Nike and he tossed it to the sideline.

McNulty, who was moved from guard to center during the spring, was asked if he heard of Jesse Williams bench pressing 600 pounds in August. Williams is Alabama’s 320-pound nose guard regarded for his Australian background and tattoos that cover his arms and neck.

“I was aware of it,” he said. “But there’s a lot of strong guys out there.”

He said he doesn't like to reveal his nerves but the butterflies have always been inevitable. They are there when he comes out of the tunnel, through the smoke and onto Faurot Field with the sound of thousands of screaming fans around him.

He said it “meant the world” for him to play alongside Fisher last weekend.

“To come back from the knee injury he did and to come back and get another one again, he’s a great competitor, great fighter,” McNulty said. “(He has) the most heart out of anybody I’ve ever seen.”

Over the week, Fisher has offered one reason for the Tigers’ struggles, one reason attributing to their 0-3 Southeastern Conference start. He sees it on the film.

“You’re out there and you have nine or 10 guys doing their job and then one or two maybe on a certain play that mess up and it messes up the whole scheme of things,” he said.

Fisher and the Tigers will attempt to find the seams in the nation’s top-ranked defense. Their attack will be guided by redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser, in for the relief of junior quarterback James Franklin, who will be sidelined with a strained MCL.

“That’s a tough position to play, backup quarterback,” Pinkel said. “And the best thing that can happen to you is having everyone around you playing absolutely super and not making a lot of mistakes.”

It will be Fisher protecting the blindside of Berkstresser, helping to ensure his team escapes the Tide without further depletion to injury and hoping to secure a bid in a postseason bowl doesn’t sustain further doubt.

He will bend his knees into position and will absorb the force of Alabama’s rush. He knows this all too well:

“Football,” he said, “is a painful game.”

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