Missouri finds leader in WR Bud Sasser
COLUMBIA (AP) - Missouri receiver Bud Sasser knows how it feels to have a defender try to strip the ball away from him. As for trying to force someone else into fumbling, well, that's a bit unusual.
"Probably playing around in practice when no one was paying attention," he said. "But not ever in a game. I don't think I've ever been able to force a fumble."
Until last week, that is. In the waning minutes of the first quarter at Toledo, Sasser stripped Jordan Haden of the ball after Haden had intercepted Maty Mauk on the play. Teammate Jimmie Hunt recovered, preventing Toledo from having a chance to tie the game at 14.
Missouri (2-0) gained a 14-point advantage two possessions later it would never lose.
"It's what you preach to your players all the time - that you never quit, that you never slow down," offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. "And Bud didn't quit. It's just a perfect example of why you always hustle and why you always finish plays."
The turnover extended the 20th-ranked Tigers' takeaway streak to 46 games, the longest in the country. It also wasn't the first game-changing play in unfamiliar circumstances for Sasser. He threw a 40-yard touchdown pass last October at Georgia to provide some breathing room for the team in the fourth quarter.
"He's going to make a play when you need to make a play," receiver Darius White said. "That's just Bud, man. I've been learning from Bud since I got here. That's the type of dude that you need on your team so you can just follow behind him and learn from him."
A senior from Denton, Texas, Sasser also posted career highs with five receptions and 121 receiving yards, 25 of which came on a bubble screen that required him to tiptoe down the sideline into the end zone.
At 6-foot-2, 210-pounds, Sasser played in every game last season, starting in nine, and caught 26 passes for 361 yards and a touchdown. Still, he wasn't quite the household name compared to Dorial Green-Beckham, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas - all of whom have departed.
And that was OK with him.
"It's very difficult, because sometimes your role is to follow," receivers coach Pat Washington said of reserves. "They want to be in the front. They want to lead. So you have to adjust every year based on what the need is and what your role may be."
This year the role for Sasser is to be a full-time starter and a team captain. He says the added playing time allows him to find a rhythm and become more comfortable on the field.
When he spent more time watching from the sidelines, Sasser concentrated on improving his skills one area at a time, be it running routes as a receiver or blocking on special teams. He shares that message with younger players, saying he wishes he had "someone in his ear" when he was starting out at Missouri.
"He's a good person. He's got a good heart," Hung said. " He'll do whatever he can for you. That's one of the things our coaches do - they recruit well at making sure we've got good guys on our team."
No one knows what Sasser will do this week against Central Florida (0-1) and cornerback Jacoby Glenn, a returning Freshman All-American. The receiver isn't one to predict, either. Teammates say he's largely let his play on the field do the speaking for him, but that if something needs to be addressed, Sasser will do it.
"Golf, track, bowling - doesn't matter what it is, Bud's going to compete in everything," White said. "There aren't too many things that Bud can't do."