Mizzou 25: Larry Smith Regional (Quarterfinal #3)

UPDATE: Called after an impressive 127 votes.  Rucker takes it, 52%-47%.  By far the closest matchup to date.

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.

We’re halfway through 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 Smith vs Martin Rucker

vs

Godzilla

MotherRucker

Stats
  1. 86 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 13 TFL, 1 FF
  1. 85 tackles, 8 sacks, 13 TFL, 2 FF, 1 FR
  1. 81 tackles, 11 sacks, 24 TFL, 2 FF, 2 FR

Record: 15-19
Bowl Wins: 1

Stats
  1. 263 receiving yards, 4 TDs
  1. 567 receiving yards, 1 TD
  1. 511 receiving yards, 5 TDs
  1. 834 receiving yards, 8 TDs

Record: 32-18
Bowl Wins: 2

The Boy: One Justin Smith story tells you everything you need to know about his 3-year tenure at Mizzou.  In the 1998 Insight.com Bowl, West Virginia tried to run a variation of the Statue-of-Liberty play, where Marc Bulger faked a throw and handed off to Amos Zereoue in the same motion.  A freshman at the time, Smith was confused by the trickeration.  So he just shoved Bulger into Zereoue and knocked them both to the ground.

In the last 25 years (and possibly ever), no player has approached the level of ferocity with which Justin Smith played every snap.  Before he had even played a game, we heard tall tales of offensive linemen thinking about quitting football because they just couldn’t bring themselves to go up against this true freshman from Jefferson City in practice on a daily basis.  On a senior-laden 1998 squad, he quickly became the defensive star, racking up 86 tackles (from the defensive end position!), 13 of which from behind the line of scrimmage.  Despite double-teams and offenses game-planned to neutralize him and run away from him, Smith got even better in following seasons, posting another 85 tackles and 8 sacks in 1999, then 81 tackles and 24 TFL in 2000.  I’ll say it again: twenty-freaking-four tackles for loss.  That’s an insane total on a good defense, much less the 2000 Mizzou defense.

The Boy: Martin Rucker is a leader in every possible connotation of the word.  He is a leader on and off the field.  In 2007, if the team needed someone to make a catch, he made it.  If the team needed a big block, he made it.  If the team needed a runner to carry four defenders for a first down, he did it.  After hearing from the NFL draft committee that he needed to improve his toughness during his senior season, MotherRucker quite simply became one of the toughest runners I’ve ever seen.  He found it a personal offense when only one guy tried to tackle him.

Never mind that Martin Rucker was an All-American tight end, and never mind that he leaves Mizzou with over 2100 career receiving yards and 18 TDs.  He was a no-brainer for the Larry Smith Regional because no player has ever led by example more than he did in his four years in Columbia.  He overtook a strong incumbent tight end to start from Day One.  He yelled and screamed on the sidelines at the 2005 Independence Bowl and told anybody who would listen that Mizzou was going to come back and win (and they did).  He turned his biggest weakness into his biggest strength for his senior year.  He made this his team, and he was one of the biggest individual reasons why Mizzou won more games in 2007 than in any other year in their history.

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