WACO, Texas — Hope took a hit on Saturday for the Missouri football team.
It wasn’t the first time this season. The good vibrations following a sound Homecoming victory over Iowa State were silenced in a loss to Oklahoma State. Earlier, positive signs in a close loss to then-No. 1 Oklahoma led only to a sluggish game against Kansas State.
But the hit hurt more after a 42-39 loss to Baylor, during which Missouri’s resolve disappeared at the worst times. The Tigers (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) were outscored 14-0 in the third quarter, and did not put up a fight when the game could still have been won.
For the fifth time, the Tigers walked out of the locker room facing the same questions. Saturday night, they walked a little slower. They recited the truisms — “We all have to make more plays, we have to the do the little things” — with a little less conviction.
“Week after week we come out here and … five times this year I have had this feeling,” wide receiver T.J. Moe said. “It’s frustrating.”
Missouri’s hope had surged following an overtime win against a ranked Texas A&M last week. On the road, it responded to early adversity and matched every move by the Aggies late in the game.
There was hope that after all the other blows, Missouri was growing up.
Against Baylor (5-3, 2-3 Big 12), which had a school-record 697 yards, it did not look like a maturing team but rather the same, maddeningly inconsistent one. The offense stalled in the most critical part of the game, and the defense gave up the big plays that will ruin any team in the Big 12.
That inconsistency has been vexing all season, but after Missouri responded to every Texas A&M move last week, its disappearance this week was all the more disappointing.
“It’s all about consistency, and we made a lot of mistakes,” head coach Gary Pinkel said. “A lot of fundamental … basic mistakes on both sides of the ball. It makes it very difficult to win when you do that.”
Missouri struggled to stop Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Because of a combination of big Missouri defensive plays and big Baylor gaffes in the red zone, though, the Tigers led 14-13 at halftime despite Griffin’s 223 total yards.
In the first quarter, Kip Edwards stripped the ball from Griffin’s hands, and Braylon Webb recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback. A dominating drive for Baylor — 85 yards on eight plays — ended in nothing. Two drives later, Griffin completed five straight passes to drive 60 yards into the red zone. Then he fumbled again, and though he recovered it, Aaron Jones missed a 27-yard field goal attempt.
But for the most part, Missouri did not capitalize. Quarterback James Franklin said if he had done a better job finding open receivers in the first half, the swing in the third quarter might not have happened.
“Three throws and it could be a different ballgame,” he said. “We have 21 points or 28 points in the first half, so the momentum’s a little bit different coming into the second half.”
Instead, Baylor used the energy from a touchdown in the final seconds of the second quarter to take control in the third. On 3rd-and-2 Griffin hit Tevin Reese for a 52-yard pickup down the right sideline. Three plays later, Griffin took advantage of safety Matt White’s error and found Terrance Williams for a 28-yard touchdown. Because of White’s late-hit personal foul, Baylor was able to go for two from the 2-yard line and take a 21-14 lead.
Missouri could not answer. Running back Henry Josey had kept up his torrid pace in the first half, rushing for 111 yards on 10 carries and scoring both touchdowns. But when Missouri faced 3rd-and-2 on its first possession of the third quarter, it opted to throw the ball. Franklin completed a bubble pass to tight end Michael Egnew but lost a yard on the play. On the ensuing fourth down, he tried to go to Egnew again but missed.
Missouri scored 25 points in the fourth quarter and pulled within three points, but the game was lost by then. The fourth quarter was an exaggerated version of the Kansas State loss, in which it scored two late touchdowns to give the appearance that the game was close.
Franklin’s touchdown pass to L’Damian Washington with 1:59 left, which made the score 42-39, indicated the team’s unwillingness to give in. But that trait is only effective when, like last week, the team is able to hang in there earlier.
“We’ve done that three or four times this year,” Moe said. “We’ll have a great fourth quarter, but we got to do something in the second and third.”