COLUMBIA — The lull hanging over the crowd in Memorial Stadium told the story. An interception on Chase Daniel’s second pass of the night. An inconsistent, sputtering running game. A defense that allowed Kansas State to march well inside Missouri territory early in the first quarter.
Early on, it had all the makings of an upset. Up just 10 with a little more than four minutes to play in the half, the 27-point-favorites’ sluggish start had continued much further into the contest than the 68,349 in attendance would have liked. No time to panic, but the idea of an upset wasn’t far off.
Until finally, a breakthrough sent Missouri to 41-24 win.
Freshman linebacker Will Ebner broke through the teeth of the Wildcats offensive line, charged at punter D.J. Fulhage, and sent the sophomore’s punt harmlessly sputtering towards the Missouri sideline. And, before the Wildcats could catch their breath, the rout was on.
Nine seconds later, Jeremy Maclin outran a straggling pack of Wildcats on a screen play for a 42-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 17.
“That’s what takeaways do for you, they’re gamebreaking plays,” junior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “It inspired the whole team.”
After a Kansas State three-and-out, Maclin provided an encore.
His 15-yard punt return put the Tigers on the Wildcat 31-yard line, and on the second play of the drive, the sophomore caught a jump ball over Kansas State safety Courtney Herndon in the back right corner of the end zone.
In under two minutes, with just three offensive plays, the Tigers put 14 points between themselves and the Wildcats, thanks to the play of the Kirkwood native.
“It’s unbelievable what he can do with the ball in his hands,” said quarterback Chase Daniel.
Even without a player who had been the offense’s stalwart in all nine previous games, helping distract defenses’ attention from the speedster.
Chase Coffman, who sprained his right big toe in the fourth quarter of last week’s 31-28 win over Baylor, didn’t look like a risk to not play.
“He’s looking good,” Daniel said on Monday. “He’s such a competitor and it’s his dad’s team, so yeah, he’s going to play.”
Coffman’s father, Paul Coffman, a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, played at Kansas State, and his brother, Carson Coffman, is the backup quarterback for the Wildcats.
Not to mention it would have been the senior’s last game at Faurot Field.
“He practiced a little bit on Thursday, he tried to go, he wanted to play really bad,” Pinkel said, adding that the training staff is solely responsible for decisions on clearing players. “Coaches never get involved with that, and we ultimately left that up to Chase.”
Pinkel said the tight end would return next week.
A pair of other Tigers, Weatherspoon and Maclin, both were hesitant to acknowledge the notion they they might have played their final games at Faurot Field as well. Maclin said the thought hadn’t crossed his mind and Weatherspoon was non-committal to either decision. Weatherspoon was more open about the prospects of his teammate, however.
“He definitely sent a message to the NFL scouts out there that he might be ready right now, but who knows,” Weatherspoon said.
As Missouri closed out their home slate Saturday, its attention now turns to a very legitimate chance to book a bus ticket to Kansas City on Dec. 6 for the Big 12 Conference championship game.
With a win over Iowa State, winless in conference play, next week and a loss by Kansas to No. 4 Texas, the Tigers would clinch the Big 12 North.
Just don’t suggest that the matchup with the Jayhawks in Arrowhead Stadium with the North in hand would be meaningless.
“I guarantee you that Arrowhead game is going to mean something,” Pinkel said. “You don’t have to attach anything on it when we play Kansas.”