Meet Michael Egnew.
You might not recognize the name. You probably wouldn’t know him if you passed him on the street. And you almost certainly wouldn’t name him if someone asked you to list 10 Missouri football players.
But you should.
See, Egnew, a 6-foot-6, 235-pound junior from Plainview, Texas, might just be the best player on the Tigers’ team this season. His 78 catches lead the team, and he ranks second in both receiving yards (663) and receiving touchdowns (four). Monday, he was one of three tight ends in the country named as a finalist for the John Mackey Award — given annually to the nation’s best player at that position — and those numbers stack up well with his fellow finalists.
His receptions nearly double those of the other two — Arkansas’ D.J. Williams and Wisconsin’s Lance Kendricks — and his yardage total is more than 100 yards better than either player. All of this while going up against the seventh-most-difficult schedule in the country.
“I’m excited for him,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said. “That’s certainly a great honor to be in a select group of tight ends around the country. Hopefully he will continue to play well, but he’s a heck of an athlete and a big athlete that can make plays.”
Part of Pinkel’s excitement may come from the fact that Egnew emerged out of nowhere. He played in all 13 games for the Tigers in each of the past two seasons but caught just seven passes for 47 yards during that 26-games stretch. Part of the reason for Egnew’s slow development was the list of playmakers on the depth chart ahead of him. Names like Jeremy Maclin, Danario Alexander, Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker all demanded their share of targets during Egnew’s first two years.
But with all of those guys gone — all three are in the NFL — the time for Egnew to emerge arrived.
“Talk about a guy that is a completely different player than he was a year ago,” Pinkel said. “And that’s just through time. It’s like any player, if you’re a good athlete, eventually, if you work hard, you’re going to develop into a real good player.”
Egnew is far from the only weapon on Missouri’s roster this season. Both the MU offense and defense are loaded with dangerous players. But the big, talented tight end who just now is coming into his own might best represent the kind of team the Tigers are: big, physical, fast and anonymous.
Very few MU players are known by college football fans throughout the nation. Ask anyone in Big Ten or SEC country to name a couple of Tigers, and they might stumble after getting past junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert. A few might mention running back Derrick Washington, but he was dismissed from the team this summer because of a run-in with the law.
Left to pick up the pieces in his absence were Gabbert, Egnew, a couple of running backs and a silent-but-deadly crop of wide receivers.
“The (games) I’ve seen, they’ve been great,” KU defensive coordinator Carl Torbush said. “I’m really impressed with their quarterback. He’s an excellent thrower, and he probably doesn’t get as much credit for running as he (should). They give you a lot of things you have to worry about, and they can run the ball extremely well when they run it.”
To say the Tigers are what their defense makes them would be missing the point. Although MU has had plenty of talented playmakers during the past several seasons, it’s the Tigers’ defense that has been the team’s backbone. Always fast and always physical, Missouri plays a style of defense that mirrors its offense.
“Their defense is fast. They run well, they get off blocks, they create pressure on the quarterback,” KU coach Turner Gill said. “But the biggest thing is their scoring. I think it’s 16, 17 points or less that they’ve given up. I think the one stat that probably makes the difference from where they’re at and where we’re at is (they’re) a plus-10 in the turnover margin.”
Last week’s victory against Iowa State gave Missouri just its sixth nine-win season all-time. A win today would give the Tigers win No. 10 for the third time in the last four years. Though such heights were unheard of before Pinkel arrived in Columbia, Mo., in 2000, the man entering his 10th year in charge of the black and gold is not beating his chest.
“I’m just focused on the process of building our football team and our football program,” Pinkel said.