AMES, Iowa — Despite a 7-0 lead in the third quarter, the Missouri football team was in desperate need of a spark. The Tigers hadn’t scored since late in the first quarter, and their defense had lucked out on two missed field goals by Iowa State in the red zone.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert and Missouri’s committee of running backs struggled to make a big play.
Backed up on their own 28-yard line with about 3:30 left in the third, the Tigers lined up to punt on fourth and 2. That’s when senior punter Matt Grabner provided the game-changing play Missouri needed.
The Tigers’ punt team lined up, spread out wide across the line of scrimmage. As soon as Grabner received the long snap, he darted straight ahead through a gapping hole behind the center and guards for a gain of 15 yards.
“They executed it so well,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “Momentum wise, it was huge for us. I think we scored on that drive. The way our defense was playing, that was real good.”
Missouri’s offense appeared rejuvenated after the trick play. The Tigers drove down the field and scored their second touchdown of the game, which put them ahead 14-0 and secured the victory.
“It was a big momentum swing,” Grabner said. “Any time you can pull off a fake punt or even a fake field goal, it’s a huge momentum swing. In that game, with a score like that in the cold weather, momentum was everything. Once we got that first down, we were able to march down and score. That gave us a huge lift.”
Each week Missouri practices a fake punt. Whether it uses it or not is totally based on in-game situations. The call is never predetermined before the game.
“We practiced it, and I knew my guys would block for me,” Grabner said. “I wasn’t nervous at all.”
He did, however, have trouble remembering exactly what happened on the play.
“It was awesome. It happened so fast that you don’t realize it until you get to see it on TV the next day or see it in the film room,” Grabner said.
After the special teams made such a key play, sophomore wide receiver T.J. Moe said the offense knew it had to step up.
“Once you get something like that going, you kind of realize that the defense is doing their job and the special teams is doing their job, so it’s about time we start doing our job,” Moe said.
Moe was sitting on the bench after Missouri’s failed third-down attempt when quarterback Blaine Gabbert told him they were going for the fake, so he quickly jumped to his feet to watch and see if the offense needed to get back on the field.
“We were getting a lot three-and-outs and not doing a lot of good things tonight, so that kind of sparked us and got us going a little bit,” Moe said.
The only bad part of the conversion was how it ended. Just before colliding with tacklers, Grabner attempted to slide, but awkwardly stumbled to the ground making it look like he tackled himself.
“It was a little embarrassing,” he said. “You didn’t see the turf monster jump up and get me?”