The box score would tell you Missouri’s game against Texas A&M on Saturday was at least relatively close.
The box score would be wrong.
Texas A&M outgained Missouri by a narrow margin, but the Tigers were 23 points better than the Aggies on Saturday, cruising to a 45-22 win at Memorial Stadium.
Missouri cornerback Michael Harden had a simple explanation for why yards didn’t equate to points.
“It has a lot to do with field position,” Harden said. “Our defense was stopping them and giving our offense a good chance to go out there and put points up on the board. Special teams was doing a good job.”
As if playing against the maligned Texas A&M defense that allowed 77 points against Oklahoma on Nov. 8 wasn’t enough, Missouri’s offense started four drives in Aggies territory and four more beyond the Missouri 35.
“That’s huge,” Missouri receiver Darius Outlaw said. “It cuts the field in half. We just have to take advantage of it.”
The Tigers made the most of their opportunities, scoring touchdowns on three of their four drives that started in Texas A&M territory.
Shirdonya Mitchell set up the Tigers with good field position throughout the game, averaging 25.4 yards on five kickoff returns. In the second quarter, Mitchell took the kickoff and burst through a big hole, poised to break it for a touchdown. An Aggie defender got just enough of Mitchell’s foot to trip him up, though.
“I just keep getting closer and closer,” Mitchell said. “This week, some dude’s leg got me. I saw the hole just open. My eyes got big, my heart started beating. I thought, ‘This is it.’ But somebody’s leg tripped me up.”
Mitchell said he gets his motivation from the offensive players, who remind him before every kickoff that they are counting on him for good field position.
“It’s very important,” Mitchell said. “If I get to at least the 40-yard line, they’ve got a better chance of scoring. Then, if they get like two first downs, they’re already on the 30.”
The Tigers also got good field position after recovering a Reggie McNeal fumble at the Texas A&M 34. Xzavie Jackson forced the fumble, and Brian Smith recovered it, giving Missouri a chance to improve its lead. The Tigers obliged three plays later when Brad Smith scored on a 19-yard run.
Not one to be left out of the party, Missouri’s defense also took advantage of field position. After Missouri scored on the opening drive, Texas A&M’s Terrence Murphy thought Michael Matheny’s kickoff was going to roll out-of-bounds, but the kick stayed in and Murphy picked it up at the 3.
When he turned to run, Murphy stepped out of bounds and the Aggies’ drive started at the 3.
After the drive went three-and-out, Jacob Young set up to punt from the Aggies end zone. The snap was low, though, and Young’s knee touched the ground as he scooped it up, resulting in a safety and a 9-0 Missouri lead.