TROY, Ala.— Road struggles continued for the Missouri football team under Gary Pinkel.
The No. 19 Tigers lost 24-14 to unranked Troy University on Thursday night, dropping Pinkel’s road record to 4-12 in his four seasons at Missouri. A record crowd of 26,574 packed Movie Gallery Stadium in Troy to watch the Trojans defeat the favored Tigers (1-1) in nationally televised game on ESPN2.
Everything seemed to go right for Troy (2-0), including a 63-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, two fourth-quarter interceptions and two punts that pinned Missouri inside its own 5-yard line in the second half.
After a quick start that gave the Tigers a 14-0 lead with 7:28 left in the first half, the offense became stagnant and the Trojans dominated, outscoring Missouri 24-0 the rest of the way.
“We came out there and just lost our intensity, so they took advantage of it,” Tiger tailback Damien Nash said. “They went out there and played good defense after that.”
Mistakes plagued the Tigers, who have been one of the best teams in the nation at avoiding turnovers under Pinkel. Missouri fumbled three times, with the Trojans recovering once, and quarterback Brad Smith threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter, ending Missouri’s chance for a comeback.
“We had a remarkable amount of errors out there,” Pinkel said. “I’m not used to football teams that I coach making errors like that on offense.”
Missouri moved the ball easily in the first quarter, but the Trojans’ defense shut down the Tigers’ attack and stopped Missouri quarterback Brad Smith from making big plays. Smith was 25-for-46 passing, for 224 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions and did not have his usual success on the ground, running for 36 yards on 15 carries.
The normally elusive Smith had trouble evading Troy’s quick defensive line. The Trojans sacked Smith twice and hurried him six times. Defensive lineman Demarcus Ware led the defense with two tackles for a loss, including a sack for a nine-yard loss.
“(Troy) did a good job, and they stepped up and made plays,” Smith said. “They were making plays behind the line, so they did a good job.”
The Trojans found success in unconventional ways, scoring on a 27-yard touchdown pass by wide receiver Jason Samples, and another on a 63-yard fumble recovery by offensive lineman Junior Louissant.
The ball ended up in Louissant’s hands when Missouri safety Jason Simpson hit Troy tailback DeWhitt Betterson, knocking the ball into the air and into Louissant’s hands. The 6-foot-1, 276-pound Louissant took the ball in stride and outlasted cornerback A.J. Kincaide for the touchdown, tying the game at 14.
“I know (Louissant) was filled with joy, but for me I almost died,” Missouri defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said. “I could’ve just collapsed right there on the field when that happened.”
Troy’s other two touchdowns came on big passing plays. The Trojans’ first score, coming in the second quarter, was the trick play that saw quarterback Aaron Leak throw a backward screen pass to Jason Samples, who then fired a 27-yard touchdown pass to tailback Jermaine Richardson, who was waiting in the end zone, making it 14-7 Missouri.
The third touchdown in the fourth quarter, closed the scoring. Leak, scrambling to his left, threw the ball to the back of the end zone, where Samples made a jumping catch over cornerback Shirdonya Mitchell for the score.
Trojans coach Larry Blakeney said his team used the big plays to build momentum after falling behind early.
“We stuck with them,” Blakeney said. “The next thing you know we get a play, the next thing you know we get a stop.”
Although Troy was able to convert on risky plays, Pinkel said he was happy with his defense, which had to deal with difficult field position resulting from three Tigers turnovers, a blocked punt and one turnover on downs in the fourth quarter.
“I though our defense played better in the second half,” Pinkel said. “Given the field position they were given, and then giving the ball back to our offense for opportunities that we didn’t do anything with, it’s certainly frustrating.”
Mosley led Missouri’s defense, which intercepted Leak three times, with three tackles for a loss, and three sacks.
“I wasn’t really feeling good in the first half, but in the second half I tried to step it up,” Mosley said. “I was just thinking about winning.”
Missouri will most likely drop in the rankings and possibly out of the Top 25 with the loss. With no game this weekend, the team will have extra time to prepare for Ball State on Sept. 18 in Columbia.
“We don’t have to bounce back,” Nash said. “We have to go back and get ready and just go back to work.”