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November 12, 2008
No doubting Daniel
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Three years ago, Chase Daniel stepped on to Faurot Field and became Missouri's quarterback of the future. Brad Smith was on the bench, woozy from a vicious hit. Daniel had never thrown a touchdown pass and never really taken a meaningful snap in a game. The Tigers were down 24-14 to Iowa State in the midst of another season that seemed sure to go south.
What happened, of course, has been the stuff of Missouri legend. Daniel drove the Tigers to a field goal. Then to a tying touchdown. Then to another field goal in overtime to win the game, 27-124.
"It was just such a whirlwind," Daniel said. "I knew what had to be done, but there was really no pressure facing me at the time because I just had to go in there and do my job. I'd prepared well all week just like every other game and it was a great experience, something I'll always remember."
At the end of the year, that win was the difference between Missouri playing in a bowl game or spending the holidays at home; the difference, some would say, between Daniel playing the rest of his career for Gary Pinkel or for the man that could have been tabbed to succeed him had fans gotten their way. Smith's swan song was a monumental comeback win over South Carolina in the Independence Bowl. And from that moment on, the program belonged to Chase Daniel.
The next two years were a fairy tale for Daniel. In his first season, Mizzou went 8-and-5, matching its best win total in the past 37 seasons. Then, in 2007, it all came together. The Tigers went 12-and-2, won their first Big 12 North division title and the Cotton Bowl. Daniel finished fourth in the Heisman voting and became college football's golden boy.
He returned for the 2008 season as one of the favorites for the Heisman that eluded him the year before. His Tigers were in everyone's top ten and among a handful of teams with legitimate national title hopes. The first five games brought five wins and Daniel was everyone's Heisman front runner.
And then, really for the first time, times got tough for Daniel. He threw three interceptions against Oklahoma State. The Tigers lost. The next week, Daniel went back to Texas and Missouri was run out of Austin on national television. The Tigers dropped out of the national title discussion and Daniel's doubters began to be heard.
Since then, Missouri has won three straight. And while Daniel has thrown for 891 yards and ten touchdowns, he has also thrown four interceptions.
"I've got to play better," he said after Saturday night's 41-24 win over Kansas State. "I'm hurting this team."
"That's a guy that's a great competitor that doesn't like to throw interceptions. He's thrown a couple," Gary Pinkel said. "I've seen Bret Favre throw a few. That's part of the deal. He's a great competitor and he's hard on himself. That's okay. He's just got to relax and do what he does."
Indeed, the standard Daniel has set has been impossibly high. The numbers would say that not only has Daniel been as good as he was last year, but he's been better. He has completed more of his passes (76.1% to 68.2), thrown for more yards per game (326.4 to 307.6), has a better efficiency rating (172.38 to 147.89) and increased his yards per attempt (up from 7.65 to 9.07). Last year, he threw three touchdowns for every interception. This season, he has thrown 2.8 touchdowns for each of his ten picks.
"If you look back, I am being a little too hard on myself," Daniel admits. "But that's just the competitor I am. That's just how I play, that's how I go about things. It's been that way since high school, I'm not going to change for the last three games of the year. I've just got to be more careful with the football."
Daniel's confidence is legendary. It has been, perhaps, his biggest strength in three years as a starter at Missouri. And he says it hasn't wavered a bit.
"I know my team has confidence in me. I have confidence in myself," he said. "But just going to go out there and just can't try to hurt the team too much with the interceptions."
There's that phrase again. Is Daniel hurting his team? The rest of his teammates don't think so.
"He's very hard on himself. He came from winning his whole life," Chase Coffman said. "He's done a great job and I think he's just upset with a couple of plays he made and a couple interceptions that happened. I don't think he's hurting this team at all. It's a group effort and everybody makes mistakes."
"I think he's too hard on himself, man," Jimmy Jackson added. "He makes so many plays. We trust him. He's being too hard on himself. He knows that he probably could play better. He's just that type of competitor."
If Daniel can play better, perhaps some of those dreams that seemed dashed three weeks ago can still be realized for this Tiger team. The senior from Southlake has come full circle now, once again preparing to face Iowa State. This time, nobody's job is on the line. There is no question that the Tigers will play in a bowl game. Instead, Missouri can win its second straight Big 12 North championship. Soon, the team will be someone else's to run, but this weekend, Daniel can cement a legacy that is already rock solid in Tiger history.
And just what is that legacy? Just ask his coach.
"He's still the best quarterback I've ever seen."
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