It was supposed to be a hard-fought win, if it was going to be a win at all.
It was supposed to be the first test for a young team, and it was supposed to be full of the mishaps that come with inexperience.
It was also supposed to be last week.
After two and a half quarters of stagnant offense and sloppy play, the nationally-ranked Missouri Tigers needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to squeak out a 27-20 come-from-behind victory over Mid American Conference foe Bowling Green Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
The fourth quarter began with the Tigers trailing 20-13 and after Blaine Gabbert capped off a 72-yard drive with a 37-yard touchdown pass to Wes Kemp to tie the game, Missouri leaned on its defense for a pivotal stop.
And on third down, with the score tied 20-20, redshirt freshman Aldon Smith dragged down Bowling Green quarterback Tyler Sheehan for an 18-yard loss that forced the Falcons to give the ball back to Missouri.
After taking over at its own 39-yard line the Missouri offense ran its way to the win.
Washington and freshman running back Kendial Lawrence combined for 35 yards on seven carries including a one-yard Washington touchdown plunge that put the Tigers ahead for good.
The Tiger running game took over in the second half, but the successes of both backs were of significantly different varieties.
Washington finished the game with 23 carries for 124 yards and the game-winning score, and looked more like the player people expected him to be entering the season as Missouri’s top returning weapon.
And while Washington’s performance was an affirmation, Lawrence’s was an introduction.
With backup De’Vion Moore sidelined with an ankle injury, Lawrence used the opportunity to show how his quickness and knack for hitting the big play made him a high school All-American last season.
"I thought Kendial came in as a young player, as a freshman in a big-time environment and when we needed him to make some plays, he did," head coach Gary Pinkel said.
But while the Tigers moved the ball with ease in the fourth quarter, the offense struggled for a majority of the game.
Missouri failed to convert on its first 10 third-down conversion attempts.
It had just three first downs in the first quarter, and two of them were courtesy of Bowling Green personal fouls.
Gabbert completed only 10 of his 21 first half pass attempts for a measly 44 yards.
After the Falcons scored with 2:52 remaining in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead, Gabbert fumbled at his own 18-yard line on the first play of the ensuing Missouri drive while being sacked by Cody Basler.
The ball security issues continued when Carl Gettis fumbled during a punt return in the second quarter that gave Bowling Green the ball on the Missouri 18-yard line and allowed the Falcons to take a 13-0 lead with just under 14 minutes go play in the second quarter.
Missouri managed to add two field goals before the end of the half to cut the lead to 13-6. It looked as if the Falcons had left just enough breathing room for the Tigers to make sure the game ended the way it was supposed to. It couldn’t go any worse for Missouri. With 30 more minutes of action everything would realign. The ranked team would exhibit its superiority.
But from the moment the second half began Bowling Green showed that what took place in the first half was no fluke.
Sheehan took the offense 73 yards on nine plays on the half’s opening drive that made the score 20-6 and dimmed any hopes for a Missouri comeback.
The key for the Tigers was that following Willie Geter’s 1-yard touchdown run to stretch the lead to 14 the Missouri defense had seen enough. The Bowling Green offense never entered Missouri’s half of the field again.
Sean Weatherspoon led the Tigers with 14 tackles, the most important of which came on a third-down pass to Geter that forced Bowling Green to punt and gave the Tigers a chance to tie the game.