COLUMBIA — With just 1:20 remaining in the game, Missouri safety Kenronte Walker intercepted Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly's pass at the front of the end zone, sealing the Tigers' 24-20 win over the Sun Devils on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
"I just felt good," Walker said. "The defensive line had great pressure, making him roll out like that. Making him throw the ball."
But as Missouri coach Gary Pinkel watched Walker run down the sideline, he was still nervous. He wanted Walker to fall to the ground and eliminate the risk of a fumble. Walker returned the pick 49 yards to the 49-yard line before stepping out of bounds and putting his coach at ease.
"I was ready to go tackle him myself," Pinkel joked. "He knows he's not supposed to run that back."
Walker admitted that he wanted to score, but he hopes his big plays late in the game will help his coach forgive him.
"If I had a chance to score for the team, I would do it," Walker said.
Walker also broke up a pass in the back of the end zone on fourth and goal from the Missouri three-yard line with 3:36 left in the game. The play prevented a touchdown and preserved the Tigers' 24-20 lead.
Missouri failed to take advantage of plenty of scoring opportunities in the game. Kicker Andrew Baggett made just one of his four field goal attempts. Pinkel said he will evaluate the kicking game, but doesn't think the misses were all the kicker's fault. He said bad snaps and bobbled holds may have thrown off Baggett's timing.
The Tigers started the first drive of the game at their own 42-yard line after a 42-yard kickoff return by T.J. Moe.
On that drive, Arizona State's Chris Young drilled Missouri quarterback Corbin Berkstresser in the helmet while he was trying to scramble on third down. Berkstresser got the start because Missouri quarterback James Franklin was sidelined with an inflamed bursa in his right shoulder. Young was called for a 15-yard personal foul, giving Missouri the only first down it would need to get in field goal range for Baggett's only made field goal.
Missouri built up a 17-0 lead despite missing opportunities to get ahead in the game.
Late in the second quarter, Arizona State receiver D.J. Foster took a screen pass from quarterback Taylor Kelly down the right sideline for a touchdown to cut Missouri's lead down to 10.
In the second half, Kelly opened up the half with runs of 8, 6 and 16 yards, taking the Sun Devils to the Tigers' 35-yard line. After the defense forced a third and 9, Michael Sam and Kony Ealy combined to sack Kelly, forcing a punt that pinned the Tigers at their own 7-yard line.
On third and eight from the Missouri 9-yard line, Berkstresser found Marcus Lucas, who caught the pass and fell to the ground to avoid a hit.
T.J. Moe caught a pass on a slant rout and dragged defenders as he stretched the gain to 26 yards.
The 74-yard drive came up empty when Baggett missed wide left on a 37-yard field goal attempt.
After a three-and-out for the Sun Devils, a long snap slipped through the hands of Arizona State punter Josh Hubner. He helplessly looked for the ball as it bounced on top of his helmet. Hubner eventually regained control of the ball and punted it as he was being tackled. The punt traveled just 11 yards to the Arizona State 33-yard line.
That set up the Tigers' first touchdown drive of the second half. Kendial Lawrence leaped over a wall of lineman into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown run and Baggett made the extra point to put the Tigers up 24-7.
On the next drive, Missouri's Donovan Bonner forced a Taylor fumble. The ball bounced forward and was recovered by Missouri safety Braylon Webb. But after the Tigers' offense went three-and-out, a high snap forced punter Trey Barrow into completing a desperation pass to Kip Edwards, which resulted in a turnover on downs.
Arizona State, after getting the ball at the Missouri 36-yard line, scored a touchdown on a 2-yard run by Marion Grice.
After forcing another Missouri punt, Taylor led the Sun Devils downfield and set up a 9-yard run from Grice to pull within four points of the Tigers. The extra-point attempt failed after a snap was mishandled.
Berkstresser then led Missouri into field goal range, but Baggett missed a 48-yard field goal.
After a 17-yard pass set up Arizona State drove to the Missouri 1-yard line, the defense held thanks to Walker's pass break-up on fourth down. Then after the Tigers punted back to the Sun Devils, Walker's interception allowed his team to run out the clock.
"It shows remarkable will to battle," Pinkel said. "That was fitting for those guys who battled all day."
Missouri will play its first road game next week when the Tigers play the South Carolina Gamecocks at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Columbia, S.C.