Corby Jones's most impressive scramble this season came in the days before Missouri's opening game. While laid out in the Tigers' training room, he was blindsided by coach Larry Smith. "Hey, Jones!" Smith snarled. "You parked in my space!"
"I'm just getting treatment," Jones said.
"You may be getting treatment and you may be the starting quarterback," Smith said, "but I'm the head coach and I just asked a policeman to tow your car."
Jones, a junior, bounded to his feet and bolted out the door. The prankish Smith laughed uproariously. "I've only seen Corby run quicker once," he says, "and that was when he ran the option for 80 yards last season against Kansas."
Last Saturday against Colorado the 6'1", 227-pound Jones trafficked in more options than a commodities broker. He wheeled for 74 yards on the ground and dealed for another 164 in the air to lead the Tigers to a 41-31 victory, their first over the Buffaloes since 1984. The win raised Mizzou's record to 6-3, guaranteeing the Tigers their first winning season since '83—which was also the last time they went to a bowl.
Jones, who ranks first in total offense in the Big 12, has been known as the "option quarterback" since enrolling at Missouri two years ago. His father, Curtis, was a noseguard at Missouri in the late 1960s and an assistant coach there in the '70s. He rejoined the Tigers in '93 as tight ends coach, tutored the running backs from 1994 to '96 and is now the defensive line coach. Corby was all-state at Hickman High in Columbia and considered scholarship offers from Nebraska and Illinois, among other schools, before picking the Tigers.
As a freshman Jones was assigned to the scout team, but his redshirt was yanked after a 30-0 loss to Kansas State dropped the Tigers to 2-3 that season. "We had three drop-back quarterbacks," Smith recalls, "and none were getting the job done. I decided it was time to go where our future was." The future turned into the present for Jones, who saw action the following week against Nebraska, the defending national champion. "I was too young and too ignorant to be scared," says Jones. "I was just excited." So excited that his first pass, a bomb down the middle, was intercepted. He didn't throw another one, and Nebraska won 57-0.
Despite starting all but one game during a 5-6 season in '97, Jones amassed fewer passing yards (624) than his backup, Kent Skornia (701). "The platooning didn't help my self-confidence much," Jones says.
This season the Tigers are relying more or Jones's arm. He threw for 220 yards in a 37-29 win over Texas on Oct. 18 and passed for two touchdowns and ran for four in an Oct. 25 double-overtime 51-50 victory over Oklahoma State. With two games left he has rushed for a team-high 701 yards, which means he could become the first quarterback to lead Missouri in rushing since 1964. "I used to run to set up the pass," says Jones. "Now I pass to set up the run."
So much for limiting his options.