COLUMBIA — For the second time in two home games, the fans at Memorial Stadium were booing lustily.
Three weeks ago, the crowd was a deafening chorus of anger after star linebacker Andrew Wilson was thrown out against Toledo for targeting. On Saturday night, Missouri cornerback Randy Ponder was flagged for another targeting penalty and ejected to the dismay of the Faurot Field faithful.
The rule, intended to curb potential head injuries by punishing players who hit defenseless receivers in the helmet area, has not worked in the Tigers’ favor in 2013.
Ponder’s first-quarter infraction was a bang-bang play that saw an Arkansas State running back catch a short pass and then turn into the Missouri cornerback. Ponder appeared to keep his chest and head straight up — two signs of a correct form tackle — but officials ruled that he purposely initiated head-to-head contact.
“I was right there, and I’m going to have to look at it,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “I think there was no question about it: He didn’t want to do it.”
Neither player was injured, but Ponder was forced to make the long walk to the locker room after his ejection.
The Tigers defense still survived in a 41-19 win.
“Fortunately, we did the right things in the second half,” Pinkel said.
Missouri coaches and players have repeatedly said they took several measures this offseason to keep Tigers from making illegal tackles, including sending film of questionable hits to an independent review board during summer practice. They re-emphasized the need for safety after Wilson hit a Toledo receiver in the head with his forearm on Sept. 7.
“It has nothing to do with them saying, ‘I don’t care,’” Pinkel said. “There’s no malice here. They’re not like that at all. These kids are kids. He had a good hit on the guy. It was too high, and you just cannot do that.
“We’ve got to aim low. We just have to do it.”
Because Ponder’s infraction occurred in the first half, he will be able to start the next game Oct. 5 at Vanderbilt.
Kicking game falters again
Andrew Baggett missed two kicks in Missouri’s first three games, but he saved his worst miss of the season for early in Saturday’s contest. With Missouri down 3-0, the Tigers mounted an 11-play, 66-yard drive before Baggett hooked a 24-yard field goal.
“You’re always concerned,” Pinkel said. “We’ve got to be more consistent in practice. You have that long drive right there … you get no points, and you feel like you got hit in the gut.”
Ironically, a Missouri fan later made a 30-yard field goal during a stoppage in play as part of a sponsored contest.
Mauk makes brief appearance
When Missouri began its first drive of the second quarter, James Franklin was standing on the sideline, and redshirt freshman Maty Mauk was in the game. The young quarterback completed a 1-yard pass before being removed unceremoniously.
The substitution was not injury-related. Mauk made brief appearances in the Murray State and Toledo games as part of a first-half offensive package.
“We want to get him in more, but the bottom line is we were in a position where it just got tough,” Pinkel said. “So you go with your experienced players.”
Franklin finished the day 20-for-29 with 255 yards and four total touchdowns while Mauk remained on the sideline for the rest of the game.