COLUMBIA — After a successful first half, Missouri seemed to come out flat in the third quarter. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw an interception on the Tigers’ first drive of the half, and the offense was forced to punt on its second. Missouri was struggling to extend its 21-14 lead.
With less than six minutes left in the third, Tigers defensive end Aldon Smith changed everything. The sophomore lined up as a defensive tackle with Kansas State facing a second-and-5 from Missouri’s 37-yard line.
As soon as the ball was hiked, Smith put a move on the offensive lineman that he classified as top secret. Within a split second he was in the backfield, heading straight for the backside of Kansas State quarterback Carson Coffman.
“You just try to hope he doesn’t throw the ball before you get there,” Smith said. “You’ve got to either go or not because they’re enforcing the whole roughing the passer thing. Either you go hard or you don’t.”
Smith went as hard as possible.
Before the hit, he bent his knees, getting low like a lion just before it pounces on its prey. From there, Smith lunged at Coffman and planted his facemask into the quarterback's back. Coffman never saw him coming. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end wrapped him up and slammed him into the ground.
The second they made contact, Coffman dropped the football.
“It feels good,” Smith said. “You can kind of hear him grunt a little bit when you hit him. It’s a good feeling.”
Junior defensive end Jacquis Smith couldn’t hear the grunt over the sound of the collision.
“When I was rushing the passer all I heard was ‘Boom,’” Jacquis Smith said. “It was like two trucks crashing into each other.”
Jacquis Smith scooped up the loose football and took off for the end zone before Aldon Smith even knew he forced a fumble.
“At first I didn’t know it was anything more than a regular sack,” Aldon Smith said. “As soon as I heard the crowd, I knew that something had happened.”
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was also unaware that the ball was on the ground.
“I was looking at the cornerback, the guy was open, and that’s where I thought the ball was going to go,” Pinkel said. “Then all of a sudden I heard people screaming.”
As soon as Aldon Smith realized the play wasn’t over when Coffman hit the ground, he popped to his feet and chased Jacquis Smith to the end zone. Aldon Smith, who’s never been shy about his desire to score a touchdown, hoped his teammate would pass the ball back so he could score.
“I kind of sped up because I wanted him to give me the ball. I’m selfish,” Aldon Smith said.
Jacquis Smith, on the other hand, never considered lateraling the ball.
“I wasn’t thinking about a lateral,” Jacquis Smith said. “Coach probably would have killed me if I lateraled back.”
Jacquis Smith went on to score easily. The forced fumble, which Aldon Smith described as the hardest hit he’s ever laid on a quarterback, put the Tigers ahead 28-14 and provided the spark they needed to ensure victory.
“It definitely helped with the momentum,” Aldon Smith said. “It gave everybody that boost that teams need. I think we needed it today.”