It was a foregone conclusion that there would be a lot of scoring, but it was hard to see this coming.
Missouri’s offense did its best Texas Tech impersonation, scoring at will, and the Tigers’ defense did enough against the nation’s No. 1 offense in a 62-31 win Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The win makes Missouri (6-2, 2-2 Big 12 Conference) bowl eligible for the first time since 1998, and as coach Gary Pinkel said, it keeps the Tigers alive for the Big 12 North Division championship and will likely put them back into the Top 25.
“Other than that, it’s just an average football game,” Pinkel said.
Missouri’s 62 points were the most since it scored 69 against Kansas in 1969. The Tigers did it on the ground, rushing for 469 yards, the highest for a Division I-A team this season.
“We knew we were going to have to control the clock a little bit,” Missouri offensive tackle Rob Droege said. “They play a possession ball game; whoever’s got the ball the most wins. We knew we had to keep the ball and keep getting first downs.”
Missouri quarterback Brad Smith rushed 19 times for 291 yards, the most by a Division I-A player this season, and a school-record five touchdowns.
Tailback Zack Abron added a season-high 139 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries.
The Tigers didn’t pass much, for obvious reasons, but Smith completed 13-of-24 passes, to eight receivers, for 128 yards.
Texas Tech quarterback B.J. Symons completed 40-of-62 passes for 408 yards and four touchdowns, which was an off day by his standards. He entered the game with 32 touchdown passes and an average of 500 passing yards.
“You can’t stop that offense, you just hope to contain it,” Missouri cornerback Michael Harden said. “They got going a little bit, but we got our composure, tightened back up and held them in the second half.”
Even with a big lead for most of the game, the Tigers couldn’t play it safe. Texas Tech (5-3, 2-2) has proven time and again that it can come back from almost any deficit. After falling behind early, the Red Raiders were poised to do it again.
“It was the kind of game where you’re scared to death all the time,” Pinkel said.
Texas Tech twice cut Missouri’s 34-10 halftime lead to 10, but the Tigers’ offense answered each time.
After the Red Raiders failed to convert a fourth-and-7 at the Missouri 14 on their opening drive of the half, Missouri’s offense temporarily went cold.
It gained 13 yards in two drives and let the Red Raiders pull back into it. Symons hit Carlos Francis for a 12-yard touchdown and then found Mickey Peters for a 32-yard score, silencing the crowd of 60,192.
The Tigers’ offense didn’t let it stay quiet for long.
In danger of giving the ball back, Abron converted a third-and-1 from the Missouri 32 and ran for 29 yards on the next play. The Tigers scored from the 2 five plays later when Abron went up the middle to make it 41-24.
“When the lead was dwindling, a touchdown and another touchdown and we’re leading by 10 points, which is nothing against them,” Pinkel said. “I think there’s a certain point as competitors where you’ve got to make plays, and we did at that particular time.”
The Red Raiders looked to be finding their groove on the next drive, with Symons hitting Francis for a 26-yard touchdown, capping a seven-play, 79-yard drive that took 1:23.
Again, the Tigers had the answer, striking back with Red Raiderlike efficiency, going 47 yards on seven plays in 1:54.
They overcame a 10-yard illegal blocking penalty and a 6-yard loss on an Abron run. As a result, Smith ran for 60 yards on a 47-yard drive and scored from the 2 to make it 48-31.
At that point, the Tigers had enough even against the Red Raiders, but Smith didn’t quit. He added touchdown runs of 41 and 61 yards.
Smith also had touchdown runs of 10 and 27 yards in the first half, helping Missouri get out to a 27-3 lead.
The Tigers’ offense benefited from good field position throughout, thanks to Shirdonya Mitchell’s solid kickoff returns. Mitchell averaged 28 yards on five returns, twice setting Missouri up in Texas Tech territory.
Droege said the Tigers’ offense knew it had to score on nearly every drive to keep pace with high-scoring Texas Tech.
“Score early and stay on top,” Droege said. “That was what we wanted to do. We wanted to score on every possession and match them point for point.”
Missouri obliged, scoring four touchdowns and two field goals in its first six possessions, and the defense did its job to hold Texas Tech down. The Tigers forced turnovers on three straight Texas Tech possessions, helping the Tigers score 24 straight points after Texas Tech tied it at 3.
Linebacker Brandon Barnes forced a Johnnie Mack fumble that free safety Nino Williams II recovered, and Barnes and linebacker James Kinney intercepted Symons on consecutive pass attempts, helping the Tigers to a valuable early lead.
“With Texas Tech’s offense, they can explode at any time,” Williams said. “With a team like that, you want to have the offense produce some points, so whenever they do explode, hopefully we’ll have a little lead to brace ourselves on so we can keep control of the football game.
“What was it, 62 points? You can’t ask for much more out of your offense.”