Big plays, big calls and combinations of the two were the determining factors in Missouri’s win Saturday against Colorado.
The Tigers won 17-9, snapping a five-game losing streak against the Buffaloes, but for the second straight year controversial calls by the officials and penalties were integral to the outcome.
Before Saturday, Missouri was the second-least penalized team in the Big 12 Conference, with 14 penalties for 89 yards. The Tigers will drop in that category after committing seven penalties for 70 yards, all in the first half.
“We had some penalties, (problems with) the kicking game, and just things that you just don’t do,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “I’m disappointed when I see things like that. I want penalties and the kicking game, I want all those things to work with perfection.”
Colorado also struggled to avoid mistakes, with seven penalties for 45 yards. The Buffaloes had some difficult penalties on offense that created third and long situations and gave the Tigers second chances on defense.
One of Colorado’s biggest mistakes came on the first drive of the game, when Missouri failed to convert on third and goal, but Buffalo linebacker Jason Ackerman was called for holding in the end zone. The penalty put Missouri on Colorado’s 3-yard line and tailback Damien Nash ran the ball for a touchdown on the next play.
“We definitely hurt ourselves,” Colorado quarterback Joel Klatt said. “We had some big plays that got taken back, and there were some little things that we need to pay more attention to the details and correct those.”
Nash said mistakes and what he said were questionable calls affected both teams.
“There were a lot of penalties that probably shouldn’t have gone against us and there were some penalties that also hurt us,” Nash said. “We just have to avoid those things and as much as we avoid them the game is going to be played better.”
The most controversial penalty against Missouri came in the second quarter when the Tigers had first and 10 on their own 41-yard line. Quarterback Brad Smith threw a deep pass down the sideline to wide receiver Sean Coffey, who caught the ball and would have scored a touchdown, but was called for pass interference. After the game Pinkel and the Missouri players questioned the call.
“I had a real good look at that and I have to take that up with the officials,” Pinkel said.
Coffey redeemed himself in the third, though, turning a six-yard pass to the sideline from Smith into a 51-yard touchdown, beating his man and receiving a block from tight end Martin Rucker that freed him to run to the end zone.
“It’s just nice to see him come back and make that big play,” Pinkel said. “I thought that was huge.”
Missouri’s ability to overcome penalties and Colorado’s inability to do so was the difference between this year’s game and last year’s, when Colorado won 21-16. The Tigers crumbled in critical situations in that game and could not overcome plays like one on which a run by Smith that looked like a touchdown was ruled a fumble.
Pinkel said he talked in team meetings this week about the need to make big plays. Missouri’s response to that challenge was the difference in the game.
“I thought it was a pretty good gut check for our football team against a very good team,” Pinkel said.