Middle Tennessee State ran at will. It passed at will. It scored at will. In the end, it seemed to lose its will.
Missouri’s new-and-improved defense looked more like its old self Saturday than the unit that had allowed the fourth fewest points per game in the nation through three games.
After three weeks of shutting down, and sometimes shutting out, opponents, Missouri’s defense was on its heels Saturday. The Blue Raiders racked up 483 total yards and 40 points, and they did it with relative ease.
One week after shutting out Eastern Illinois, Missouri’s first shutout since 1998, something changed. Maybe it was the Blue Raiders’ no-huddle offense. Maybe it was their double-threat quarterback Andrico Hines. Maybe the Tigers’ defense took this one lightly, slacking off on the fundamentals. The Tigers, to a man, said it was the latter.
Missouri missed tackles all game, sometimes three, four and, on one occasion, five per play. When it scored on its first possession of the second half, Middle Tennessee State had taken the lead and was building confidence and momentum.
“We just bent too much,” Tigers free safety Nino Williams II said. “We let them get momentum. That’s something you can’t let a team like that get. And we paid for it.”
The Tiger defenders said they practiced against the no-huddle offense with the scout team all week, but it gave them problems nonetheless.
“We knew it was coming,” defensive lineman Russ Bell said. “It kind of threw off our rotations a little bit. You can’t really substitute the people you want on certain downs.”
Regardless of the reason, the Blue Raiders gave Missouri’s defense fits, scoring on four straight and six of seven drives at one point. Hines threw for 248 yards, many coming after scrambling out of trouble until a receiver could get open. Middle Tennessee State rushed for 197 yards, by far the most Missouri has allowed.
“Our offense was running really well,” Hines said. “I really thought they couldn’t stop us.”
Then, it seemed as if Middle Tennessee State lost its confidence. On a fourth-and-goal at the 4, it settled for a field goal to go ahead 34-26 rather than going for the knockout blow.
“We’re on the road, and that put us up by eight,” coach Andy McCollum said. “That meant they had to score and get two. If I don’t get it right there, then they’ve got a chance to beat us before going to overtime.”
Missouri took advantage, driving 73 yards to tie. The Blue Raiders had one last chance, getting the ball at their 30 with 1:11 left. They ran out the clock.
“I think if we’d have cracked the first run, you know, if we’d have hit the draw and maybe picked up 10 or 15, then we would have gotten going, but we picked up 5 and I said, ‘Well, let’s go to overtime,’” McCollum said.
Before long, the sun had set on Middle Tennessee’s upset bid.