Columbia. Mo. When Will Franklin tore his shoulder in Missouri's loss at Iowa State Nov. 18, the Tigers lost their most productive receiver and most dangerous deep threat.
But thanks to depth provided by a couple of freshmen, the Tigers figure they can survive Franklin's loss when they play Oregon State Dec. 29 at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
"When you lose a guy like Will Franklin, you've got to have some guys step up," coach Gary Pinkel said.
Pinkel found those guys in a couple of true freshmen.
When Jared Perry arrived on campus this summer, Pinkel wasn't sure if the Texas native was going to play or red-shirt. Danario Alexander, another freshman from Texas, was in the same situation.
But both earned roster spots in the for the Sept. 2 opener against Murray State. And both have been big contributors.
"I think a lot of it was the work I put in over the summer with conditioning," Perry said. "The coaches saw that and then I had a real good camp."
Perry caught a touchdown pass in his first game. In the season finale, a win over rival Kansas, he streaked down the sideline for a 74-yard TD.
Pinkel said the freshmen have been big contributors for the 8-4 Tigers.
"We thought those guys could play and make a contribution to the football team, and they did," Pinkel said. "It was hugely important as it turned out."
Perry is Missouri's fourth leading receiver with 36 catches for 413 yards and three touchdowns. Alexander has 14 catches for 177 yards. Ten of his catches came in the last three games.
Perry is listed at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, but his burst of speed more than makes up for his size.
"At first, I didn't think he'd hold up this long, just with his stature," senior receiver Brad Ekwerekwu said. "But he's so quick, he'll elude a lot of big hits that might come his way."