After Ball State blocked a Missouri punt in the Tigers’ second game, coach Gary Pinkel called it an indictment against him.
If special teams mistakes are an indictment against the coach, then Eastern Illinois coach Bob Spoo could be indicted on three counts of special teams blunders.
Missouri’s special teams were anything but special before Pinkel’s arrival three years ago. Pinkel’s demand and attention to detail, though, has made the unit one of MU’s strengths.
Outside safety Josh Hibbets sparked the Tigers’ special teams with two blocked punts.
With a minute to play in the first half, Hibbets tipped punter Andy Schofield’s punt to set up Missouri’s second touchdown.
With 1:36 left in the third quarter, Hibbets broke through the line again and blocked another Schofield punt. Hibbets, who moved to outside safety from quarterback in the spring, recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
Hibbets said he thought he could make some big plays after noticing a hole in the Eastern Illinois punt team early in the game.
“I was telling myself if I got one I was going to get another one,” Hibbets said. “Just seeing what he was doing and knowing I could get around him and coming free, it was great.”
Two weeks after blocking a punt against Illinois, senior cornerback Michael Harden tackled Panthers quarterback Andy Vincent when he couldn’t handle the snap on a 36-yard field goal attempt.
“Blocked punts change football games,” Pinkel said. “Your chances of winning go up dramatically if you can block punts. It’s encouraging to see that and hopefully we’ll be able to continue it throughout the year.”
MOVIN’ ON UP: Tailback Zack Abron continued his ascent to the top of Missouri’s record books.
Abron’s 5-yard touchdown run with 1:41 left in the first half moved him into fourth on the Tigers’ scoring list with 192 points, passing Tom Whelihan and Brock Olivo.
Abron’s second touchdown, a 25-yard burst off left tackle, was his 33rd touchdown run of his career, fifth of the season, moving him into second on Missouri’s touchdown list behind Corby Jones.
Abron also moved into sixth on the career rushing yardage list (2,273), passing Joe Moore.
“I will probably look back on it all when I’m done,” Abron said. “Right now, I’m just trying to do what I can do for the team this year.”
DAY OF FIRSTS: Wide receiver Sean Coffey caught his first career touchdown pass in the second quarter on a lob from quarterback Brad Smith. The pass hit Coffey in the right corner of the end zone to put Missouri up 14-0.
Harden got Missouri’s first interception of the season when he made a leaping catch with 5:08 to play and the Panthers threatening to score, and defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison made his first career sack in the second quarter.
The game was also Missouri’s first on the newly installed FieldTurf.
Wide receiver Darius Outlaw said the surface held up well after a night of rain.
“It was just like playing on a dry surface,” Outlaw said.
INJURY UPDATE: Senior center A.J. Ricker left the game in the second quarter after tweaking an injury to his left foot. Scott Sells replaced him before Ricker returned in the second half.
“It was kind of nice to sit out, but I don’t want to do it anymore,” Ricker said. “I just want my foot to get right.”