TEMPE, Ariz. — Until the final minutes, Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert's performance looked good enough to give the Tigers a victory Tuesday night at the Insight Bowl. But when the game ended, Gabbert’s efforts were not enough.
Gabbert threw the ball 57 times, completing 41 of those attempts. But two bad passes in the fourth quarter defined Missouri’s 27-24 loss to Iowa.
Gabbert’s second interception of the game immediately turned into Iowa’s go-ahead touchdown, and a fourth-down pass, originally ruled a T.J. Moe catch and a first down, was declared an incomplete pass, ending Missouri’s comeback drive.
“I’m just telling you, done this for a long time, in games like this, you go back and change four plays and the whole game will change,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said after the game. “That’s the way it always is.”
Football is a team sport, but the Insight Bowl was a two-man competition between Gabbert and Iowa freshman running back Marcus Coker. Each player was the dynamo of their team’s offense, the forces who scored four of the game’s six touchdowns and accounted for 648 of the game’s 937 total combined yards.
Iowa, without suspended leading rusher Adam Robinson, had no problem running the ball. Coker, Robinson’s replacement in the Iowa starting lineup, ran for 221 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries and was named the game’s offensive MVP.
In just the first half, Gabbert put up numbers that rivaled some of his best game performances, completing 23 of 31 pass attempts for 284 yards.
On Missouri’s final drive of the first half, Gabbert moved the Tigers to the Iowa 14-yard line, completing seven passes attempts for 78 yards. The Tigers looked to have tied the game at 17 in the final minute of the half, when Gabbert threw to Jerrell Jackson in the end zone. The ball hit both of Jackson’s hands, but it bounced away into the hands of Iowa safety Brett Greenwood, who caught it for an interception.
Iowa extended its lead to 20-10 with a 13-play, 93-yard drive early in the third quarter. Coker ran the ball six times for 57 yards on the drive, but couldn’t get into the end zone with the Hawkeyes on the Missouri 5-yard line.
Gabbert didn’t leave anything in the locker room. Gabbert was credited with all of Missouri’s 77 yards (60 passing, 17 rushing) on the Tigers’ second drive of the half. He ended the drive with a seven-yard touchdown run, bringing Missouri within three points of the Hawkeyes.
Missouri had the ball back two plays later, thanks to a Kevin Rutland interception of Stanzi. The Tigers committed to the run after the turnover, with Kendial Lawrence and De’Vion Moore combining for 37 yards. The Tigers took their first lead of the game in the final minute of the third quarter when Gabbert threw a screen pass to Michael Egnew on the 3-yard line and the Missouri tight end drove forward to the end zone. A Grant Ressel extra point gave Missouri a 24-20 lead going into the final quarter of play.
A Jerrell Harrison interception midway through the fourth quarter gave Missouri the ball back and a chance to close the game with another touchdown. Such a score seemed inevitable, with Gabbert competing all five of his pass attempts with ease on the subsequent drive. But on the sixth pass attempt, the game changed.
On a broken play, Gabbert rolled left out of the pocket, giving him a one-on-one play with wide receiver Wes Kemp. Gabbert, still on the run, underthrew his receiver, with Iowa’s Micah Hyde intercepting the pass. Starting at the 28-yard line, Hyde cut across the field to the opposite sideline and ran into the end zone. The touchdown gave Iowa a 27-24 lead with just over five minutes left in regulation.
“I just got greedy,” Gabbert said of the game-changing interception. “I forced it . . . It was a game of inches, and I threw the ball away.”
Gabbert and Missouri still had a chance for redemption, but the Tigers' offense stalled as it crossed midfield, and on a fourth-and-6 situation, Gabbert thought he found Moe for his 16th reception of the game and a first down. Video replay disagreed with the call on the field, and the ball was turned over to Iowa on downs.
“I thought I had it, but I guess they had some evidence that said I didn’t,” Moe said.
“It’s all up to the refs at that point," Gabbert said of Moe’s non-catch. "It stinks that the outcome wasn’t better, but we just have to live with it and move on.”
Moe ended the game with 15 receptions, an Insight Bowl record. Iowa, never unable to run the ball on the Tigers, ran out the clock, eventually taking a knee on Missouri’s 1-yard line.
When asked after the game if he was going to return to Missouri for his senior season, Gabbert said that he hasn't made a decision, but he did say that the Tigers could build off the successes of the season and the disappointment of losing.
“We are going to have one hell of a football team, I can tell you that right now,” Gabbert said. “People should watch out for us next year."