Mizzou 25: Larry Smith Regional (Quarterfinal #2)

UPDATE: Called after 94 votes.  Bad Brad wins 90%-9%.  Bad draw for Mr. Gage.  #16 moves on to face William Moore on 3/16.

It's Mizzou 25, the tournament to decide the best, most influential, most likable Mizzou athlete of the past 25 years!  It's like Who's Now or The Greatest Highlight, only, uhh, cool.  

Mizzou 25 is set up in four 8-athlete regions: the Norm Stewart Region (basketball), the Larry Smith Region (football), the Joann Rutherford Region (all sports), and the Spider Region (fan favorites).  Here's the Mizzou 25 bracket in all its resplendent glory.

It's Day Two of the Larry Smith Regional!  Here are the matchups.

3/2: Brock Olivo vs William Moore
3/3: Justin Gage vs Brad Smith
3/4: Justin Smith vs Martin Rucker
3/5: Corby Jones vs Chase Daniel

Justin Gage vs Brad Smith

vs

1999-02

2002-05

Stats
  1. 138 passing yards, 2 TDs
  1. 709 receiving yards, 4 TDs
  1. 920 receiving yards, 5 TDs
  1. 1075 receiving yards, 9 TDs

Record: 16-29
Bowl Wins: 0

Stats
  1. 2333 passing yards, 1029 rushing yards, 22 total TDs
  1. 1822 passing yards, 1310 rushing yards, 28 total TDs
  1. 2185 passing yards, 553 rushing yards, 24 total TDs
  1. 2304 passing yards, 1301 rushing yards, 29 total TDs

Record: 25-23
Bowl Wins: 1

The Boy: Few careers start under stranger, angrier circumstances than Justin Gage's.  His redshirt was torn off in the fourth quarter of Game #9 of the 1999 season so he could split QB snaps with Jim Dougherty.  In fact, in his first game (against OU in Norman) he came back out after one series, and Dougherty came in and ran the option.  It was possibly the most pissed I've ever been at a Mizzou coach.

Naturally, after that inauspicious beginning to his career, all Gage would do over the next three years is become the greatest WR in Mizzou history.  Not only is he the only player in Mizzou 25 to have passing stats AND receiving stats listed above, but he also happens to hold the school record for most catches in a game (16), season (82), and career (200), most yards in a game (236) and career (2,704), most career receiving TDs (18), not to mention most consecutive games with a reception (34).  As Mizzou's offense gets more prolific, those records may fall (Jeremy Maclin sure has taken a good first step), but Gage was by far the most dangerous weapon in the dark era between Corby Jones and the emergence of Brad Smith.

Oh yeah, and Gage just so happened to provide the biggest jolt of toughness for Mizzou's 2001-02 Elite Eight basketball team.  In Mizzou's gritty 82-73 win over UCLA, a win that sent them to the Elite Eight, Gage sprinted down the court and dove after a loose ball he couldn't possibly prevent from going out of bounds.  The heart he showed in one futile effort spurred the team's comeback from 8 down.  He was the MVP in a game in which he scored 2 points.

Gage was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2003 and has slowly improved over the course of 5 NFL seasons.  He just signed a lengthy contract with the Tennessee Titans.

The Boy: I'm going to steal The Beef's line here--nobody had a more enigmatic career than Brad Smith.  When he came to Mizzou, only one QB had ever pulled of a 2000/1000 (passing/rushing yards) season.  He averaged one for his career.  If I attend Mizzou games for the next 50 years, #16 will still end up with probably 4-6 of the Top 10 most amazing plays I've ever seen.  He would slow up as he was heading out of bounds, and as the defender slowed up as well, he'd tiptoe right by them.  He would effortlessly juke out two guys converging on him from two different directions.  He was the first Mizzou QB to beat Nebraska in 25 years, and he did it twice.  He's Mizzou's career rushing leader, and oh yeah, he passed for 8600 yards as well.  Plus, the profile he earned for Mizzou over his four years was the best recruiting tool this staff had from 2003 to 2006.

And yet...Mizzou's success with him was limited.  The more teams saw him, the more they figured out how to stop him.  Whether the fault of the Mizzou coaching staff or Brad's own limitations, when it was time for Brad to become more threatening with his arm to break out of the containment teams were putting on his feet, it didn't happen.  The first two years of his career, Mizzou went 13-12.  The last two, they went 12-11.

In the 2005 Independence Bowl, however, Smith unleashed his best, most inspiring half of football, and in the process, he possibly saved the Pinkel era and set Mizzou on the course down which they're travelling today.  Down 28-7 to South Carolina late in the first half, Brad used his arm to move Mizzou down for a TD, cutting the score to an attainable 28-14 at halftime.  And then he used his feet to complete the comeback.  His 59-yard run late in the fourth quarter set up the go-ahead TD (scored by him, of course) in a 38-31 win.  You simply cannot underestimate this moment when considering the trajectory of the Mizzou program.  You just cannot.

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