Texas A&M was in it until one small detail got in the way. The game started.
Missouri wasted no time in jumping ahead of the Aggies on its way to a 45-22 win Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
With 9:24 left in the first quarter, the Tigers had a 16-0 lead, and Texas A&M’s hopes for an upset were essentially gone. MU took its time the rest of the way, pounding the Aggies with a punishing running game, finishing with 362 yards on 48 carries.
Defensive tackle Russ Bell said the fast start and dominant running game was the perfect anecdote for the Tigers after their tough loss to Colorado a week ago.
“Coach Pinkel told us that great teams don’t lose two games in a row,” Bell said. “To pound on them real quick like that was awesome.”
Missouri improved to 7-3, 3-3 in the Big 12 Conference and stayed in the race for the Big 12 North Division championship. Kansas State’s 38-9 win against Nebraska on Saturday gives MU a prime opportunity to win the North.
The Tigers travel to Manhattan to play the Wildcats at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“I think we have more to play for,” center A.J. Ricker said. “We are back in it and controlling our destiny.”
The Aggies dropped to 4-7, 2-5 and lost their slim bowl hopes. The loss ensures Texas A&M will finish with a losing record for the first time since 1982.
Quarterback Brad Smith was back to his old tricks a week after turning the ball over four times, posting 225 yards of offense and running for three touchdowns.
Smith set the tone for the rest of the game on MU’s first play. He darted to his left, made two tacklers miss and gained 22 yards.
The run was an ominous sign of things to come for the Texas A&M defense. Smith finished the drive six plays later with a 7-yard touchdown burst off left tackle. Mike Matheny’s extra point staked the Tigers to a 7-0 lead they would not relinquish. It was the first time MU scored on its first possession this season.
The Aggies’ poor first possession matched the defense’s bad start. Returner Terrence Murphy fielded Matheny’s kickoff at the 2, but stepped out of bounds.
Texas A&M gained 9 yards on three plays before setting up to punt. The Aggies’ snap was low and punter Jacob Young’s knee touched the ground in the end zone when he bent to field it, resulting in a safety and a 9-0 Missouri lead.
The Tigers continued their dominant rushing performance on their next possession, covering 40 yards in 1:55. Abron finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run up the middle. Abron moved to the top of the career touchdown and scoring list with the score. Matheny’s extra point gave MU a 16-0 edge. Abron finished with 141 yards on 20 carries.
A series of mistakes kept Missouri from putting the Aggies away in the first quarter. The Tigers finished with eight penalties for 50 yards.
Coach Gary Pinkel said he was happy to see his team get off to a good start but was disappointed in his team’s performance the rest of the way.
“It was good, but I was really disappointed because we jumped on them early and we were in great position,” Pinkel said. “Then we started to make some offensive mistakes and we are still just making mistakes.”
Texas A&M moved the ball well at the beginning of the second quarter, but settled for Todd Pegram’s 33-yard field goal, which became a recurring theme for the Aggies.
Quarterback Reggie McNeal struggled in the first half before leaving with a stomach illness. McNeal had 45 yards rushing and 89 passing.
The Aggies moved into the Missouri red zone six times, but settled for three field goals.
Coach Dennis Franchione said Texas A&M’s scoring struggles made it difficult to recover.
“We needed to turn our field goals into touchdowns,” Franchione said.
MU answered Pegram’s first field goal with another short touchdown drive in the second quarter. Smith finished that drive with his second touchdown, a 19-yard scamper off right tackle. Abron’s run for the two-point conversion failed.
The second half was more of the same for the Tigers, but the Aggies began to match them. The teams traded scores for most of the half.
Smith scored his third touchdown with 2:04 left in the third quarter to give MU a 31-9 lead.
Quarterback Dustin Long’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Tim Van Zant with 14:21 to play was Texas A&M’s first touchdown, making it 31-15.
Tailback Derek Farmer’s touchdown run brought Texas A&M within 16, the closest the Aggies got since the early 16-0 deficit.
Texas A&M outgained the Tigers 484-451, but it wasn’t enough for the Aggies to win.
The Aggies moved the ball better in the second half with Long at quarterback. Long finished with 252 yards and a touchdown pass.
Tailback Damien Nash got in on the scoring with a pair of touchdown runs in the fourth quarter. He raced 14 yards off left tackle for a touchdown with 11:46 left and ended the scoring with a 9-yard run up the middle.
Pinkel said it was important for his team to rebound from the loss to the Buffaloes with a big win.
“My football team doesn’t handle success very well,” Pinkel said. “I feel very fortunate that we are 7-3 and there are some great possibilities out there.”