LUBBOCK, Texas — Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert had been waiting a week for what had happened in just 63 seconds. He needed that opening touchdown.
What he didn’t need were the final 51 minutes of a 24-17 loss, when the Tigers' offense transformed from a potent running game, to a haphazard string of incomplete passes.
After his most disappointing performance of the season in last week’s 31-17 loss to Nebraska, Gabbert’s was defensive. For the first time all season, he faced criticism from fans, and Saturday’s game against Texas Tech was the quarterback’s opportunity to reassert himself against the second-worst pass defense in college football.
In the first quarter, Gabbert led an offense based solely on the running game. His arm was never there — he had the strength, but his accuracy and ability to connect with an open receiver had disappeared.
“I think it was a combination of a lot of things, but execution was not very good,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.
It took the team only 1:03 to score in the first quarter on a 69-yard run by Marcus Murphy. The week before, the Tigers waited almost 19 minutes for their first score. Then, on its second drive, Missouri scored again on a 71-yard run by Kendial Lawrence, and the Tigers led 14-0. Gabbert’s offense looked dangerous, but he had yet to complete a pass.
Without Gabbert’s arm, the Missouri offense never had enough power to pull away from the Red Raiders. The Tigers moved away from the running game after the first quarter, and one phrase seemed to continually echo from the announcer.
“Blaine Gabbert, pass incomplete.”
Despite the shortcomings of his passing game — overthrown passes to Egnew, Jackson and Moe and countless balls aimed at the sidelines with no receiver in sight — he appeared at times steadier than he did against Nebraska. He rushed for a first down in the team’s opening drive, but in the second half, he seemed unsure under pressure. After Zaviar Gooden’s interception, Gabbert was penalized for intentional grounding. Although he completed an impressive 12-yard pass to Michael Egnew, Gabbert and the Missouri offense failed to capitalize on the turnover and punted.
The quarterback wasn’t fully responsible for the failure of the team’s passing game. Wide receiver Jerrell Jackson dropped four easy passes, his hands seemingly unable to contain Gabbert’s well-placed bullets.
“I think anytime you’re not executing, I think you can pass it (blame) around a little bit, including coaches,” Pinkel said. “Everybody will point to the quarterback first … There’s not a player on offense or a coach that couldn’t have done better, too.”
It was almost confusing. Many of his throws seemed impressive as they left his hands — until they landed yards in front of the intended receiver or appeared stuck to the sidelines while open receivers waited in the middle of the field.
For Gabbert, the frustration of the game culminated in a fourth quarter drive where everything seemed to be working against him. Pinkel said that he thought the team had a chance to get back in the game at that point, but the offense faltered again.
After advancing to the Texas Tech 33-yard line, Gabbert fired two passes into the end zone, the first to Wes Kemp, the second to Jackson. Each near-perfect pass hit its intended receiver in the hands before dropping to the black end zone turf. Those passes were Gabbert’s final stand, two 40-yard prayers that were almost answered.
Almost wasn’t enough.