Trailing for most of the second half, the Missouri football team fixed a complicated problem with a simple solution. Give the ball to Brad Smith.
Smith threw for one touchdown to tie the score and ran for another in overtime as the Tigers defeated Middle Tennessee State 41-40 on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
With No. 23 MU trailing 40-34 on its overtime possession, Smith and tailback Zack Abron carried twice before Smith scored on a 3-yard run to the left.
“That quarterback made the play and everyone knew he was going to get it but our defense, I guess,” Middle Tennessee State coach Andy McCollum said. “I think they knew it, too. He just made people miss.”
After Smith’s touchdown, the Tigers received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when junior wide receiver Thomson Omboga flexed, posing for a picture. The penalty moved the ball back to set up a 36-yard attempt for kicker Mike Matheny, whose extra-point attempts the Blue Raiders had blocked once and tipped once.
In front of 55,075 fans, Matheny made the kick and his team collapsed on him.
The Tigers’ (4-0) and the Blue Raiders’ (0-4) records could have been reversed. The Blue Raiders ran a no-huddle offense, gained 38 yards on a trick play and switched in four running backs who gained 197 yards.
MU led 23-21 at halftime, but Middle Tennessee took the lead on a Kelly field goal early in the third quarter. With 5:16 left, the Blue Raiders led 34-26 after Kelly kicked another field goal, a 21-yarder.
Before the Tigers tried to answer the score, the Blue Raiders knew Smith would get the ball.
“That’s the thing that’s killing us because we knew they were going to get the ball to him,” said Demetrios Walker, a Middle Tennessee defensive end. “It’s a matter of the plays and how we adjusted and the play calling and us being in position to make the play. I guess we didn’t do good enough; that’s what it all comes down to.”
In the Tigers’ tying drive, Smith ran for 31 yards and passed for 43, accounting for 74 of the Tigers’ 73 yards. Abron lost 1 yard rushing.
With 1:17 left, Smith floated the ball toward the back left of the end zone for senior Darius Outlaw’s second touchdown reception of the day. MU had tried the play in the first half to sophomore Sean Coffey, but Smith threw the ball out of the end zone.
After the touchdown, the Tigers trailed 34-32. MU had scored on its previous two-point conversion attempt this season, but it was on an unconventional play, called “polecat right,” that was shown on national television. So instead, Smith ran to the left untouched to tie the score at 34.
“I love it; I love when the coaches say they’re going to put the ball in my hands and it’s up to me,” Smith said.
With 1:11 left, the Blue Raiders rushed twice to run the clock out. The Tigers won the overtime toss, putting Middle Tennessee on offense first.
On second-and-13 at MU’s 28, quarterback Andrico Hines completed a 24-yard pass to Jerrin Holt and then scored on a 4-yard run. Kicker Brian Kelly, who had made two field goals and four extra points, hit the left upright to leave the score at 40-34.
MU’s secondary gave up several long-yardage pass plays, and the Blue Raiders finished with 286 yards passing.
Middle Tennessee receiver Kerry Wright had a career-high 144 yards receiving, including a 38-yard pass from tailback Eugene Gross in the second quarter. Hines had pitched the ball back to Gross, and it looked as if MU free safety Nino Williams was going to intercept the pass, but Wright pulled it down at the MU 9 for one of his seven catches. Gross later had a 1-yard run to make it 16-14 MU.
“We got outplayed in a lot of ways today,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said. “We did the things necessary to win at the end. That certainly is a character test.”
Smith threw for three touchdowns and ran for one, and also blocked for Abron in the second quarter when Abron ran 64 yards to the Middle Tennessee 5 to set up Outlaw’s first touchdown catch.
The coaches usually tell me not to block, but that was fun,” Smith said. “(Zack) cut it back, and as soon as I saw him cut it back I knew I was going to get somebody.”
Smith’s 328 yards of offense was second to his 391 in a 31-24 loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 5.
“He’s a difference maker,” McCollum said. “When they need him, he’s the man.”