WACO, Texas — Throughout the second half, Missouri’s defense struggled with Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin. After holding the Bears (3-6, 1-4 Big 12) to seven points in the first half, the Tigers (7-2, 3-2 Big 12) had surrendered touchdowns on three of Baylor’s four second half drives, largely because they couldn’t stop the freshmen quarterback.
At the same time, the Missouri offense hadn’t been its usual self. With a 31-28 lead, the defense had to save the day for the first time, and it delivered.
“We knew we could control it if we wanted to,” defensive tackle Jaron Baston said. “I looked everybody in the eye and said, ‘We’ve got to stay together, trust the man next to you.’”
Trusting the man behind Baston worked even better when Brock Christopher’s interception saved the Tigers from dropping to 2-3 in the Big 12.
Ironically, it was Griffin’s first of his college career, and it came in a game where he set the record for most pass attempts without an interception to start a career.
“It was kind of our goal to get one off him, and I was able to do it,” Christopher said. “We had our backs against the wall, and we realized that. The only thing you can do in that situation is fight, so we did.”
In fighting, the Tigers showed that they could win a game in the fourth quarter, something they hadn’t had to do all season long.
At the minimum, that gave Missouri coach Gary Pinkel something to be pleased with, because he viewed it as the sign of a good team.
“In the fourth quarter, when it was time to make a drive, make a kick, make a stop, we did it,” Pinkel said. “I think good teams do that. When it got really tough out there, we did the things necessary to win.”
But good teams also do things necessary to win throughout the game, and the problem was that Missouri did not until it absolutely had to. After a quick start, the Tigers’ offense turned the ball over twice, giving Baylor the momentum it needed to stay in the game.
“It shouldn’t have come down to that (interception),” receiver Jeremy Maclin said. “I think we’re a lot better team than that, but you’ve got to give them credit.”
The disappointment of what had almost happened was evident in how Missouri looked at the game.
“We didn’t play well in the second half at all,” quarterback Chase Daniel said. “We played well in the first half, but the only time they stopped us was on the two turnovers. That can’t happen, especially in the red zone.”
The day almost got a lot worse for Daniel.
Three times in the final seven minutes, the quarterback almost handed the game to the Bears, including one pass on which Baylor safety Jordan Lake would have had a clear path to the end zone if he had hung on.
“He was able to read my eyes just enough to get that,” Daniel said with a weak laugh. “Luckily, he dropped it. Nine times out of 10, he probably catches that.”
Instead, Daniel was able to add a fourth-quarter victory to his resume and the Tigers remained in control of the Big 12 North. While Missouri never admitted the possibility of defeat—at least, not publicly—a few Tigers were thankful when Christopher sealed the game.
“Thank you, God, thank you, whoever,” Baston said. “Whatever helped (Brock) out, thank you. It was a great feeling.”
Pinkel felt the same way, once he knew his team had survived.
“When it was time to make a stop at the end, Brock Christopher intercepted that,” Pinkel said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. Good teams find ways to win. That being said, we’ve got to find ways to get better, and that’s up to me.”
But after missing several opportunities and almost letting a mediocre team shock them, the Tigers will take their performance, for now.
“This game is going to open up a lot of questions,” defensive tackle Ziggy Hood said. “We’ve got to play like it’s our last (game). It wasn’t a good victory, but it was a victory.”