TEMPE, Ariz. — As Missouri's Jerrell Jackson entered the locker room at halftime, his 118 receiving yards were easily forgotten.
His seven catches approached his season high of nine in Missouri’s victory over Oklahoma. He’d capitalized on his speed throughout the half to make big plays and, after missing the beginning of the season with a broken wrist, he looked completely healthy. He should have walked off the field with a confident swagger. If you’ve ever watched Jackson, you can picture the bounce he should have had in his already energetic walk.
The last seconds of the half, though, changed all of that. Missouri ended the half down by only one touchdown. The Tigers knew they’d have the ball to begin the second half, but Jackson and his teammates had come close to a tie game. The tie hit Jackson in the hands — literally — but he couldn’t quite hold on to the points.
After an 11-play, 214-yard drive in which Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert looked like the high-level NFL quarterback prospect that he is, Jackson was poised to score. Gabbert’s pass was on target, but as Jackson sprawled over the yellow W in the Iowa end zone, Missouri’s chance at a halftime tie disappeared. It was the definition of a momentum shift as the football ricocheted into Iowa defensive back Brent Greenwood’s hands.
The play came as Missouri seemed to finally find a balance in its game. The first half of Tuesday night’s Insight Bowl was studded with flashy plays from Missouri. Gabbert, who went 23-31 for 284 yards, relied on long catches from Jackson, Wes Kemp and T.J. Moe, and Missouri’s passing offense was marked by a fast tempo and rapid substitutions. The long passes and diving catches didn’t pay off at first, though, and the Tigers’ first touchdown came on a 10-yard run by Henry Josey. What should have been the final drive of the quarter was the first in which Gabbert’s long passes seemed to pay off in the red zone.
On Monday, Gabbert emphasized his team’s need to score early.
“Any time you can score points on your first drive — whether it be a touchdown or a field goal — it just gives the team confidence that you can score points at will,” Gabbert said.
Although his team did score a field goal on its first drive, the three points seemed almost underwhelming after both the early Iowa touchdown and the speed and efficiency with which the Tigers had moved down the field. Missouri scored first in all but two of its games — both Illinois and Nebraska came out to early leads — and it has not had much experience with coming back from behind this season.
As the half came to a close, Missouri seemed to have found its rhythm, and as the ball spun out of Gabbert’s hands and the clock ticked to zero, a comeback was close. It was just a fingertip, a slippery grip, a sliding cleat away. In the end, it was just one drop, a few yards lost by Jackson after 118 gained, and the Tigers had 30 minutes left to make the comeback a reality.