AUSTIN, Texas – When Cedric Benson got finished with the Missouri football team, he had it in a furious mood.
Benson’s effort Saturday, especially in the second half, carried No. 9 Texas to a gritty 28-20 victory against Missouri on Saturday at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
“We had a chance to win the game, and we didn’t pull it off,” cornerback Shirdonya Mitchell said. “I just feel terrible right now.”
Although they stopped Texas at times during the game, the Tigers (4-2, 2-1 Big 12 Conference) eventually succumbed to the Longhorns’ determination to run the ball. Benson, a senior running back, led the way with 150 yards on 28 carries. He scored two touchdowns, including the winner.
“He doesn’t go down too easy,” defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said. “He’s a tough back. He breaks a lot of tackles. He runs under control.”
He seized control during the third quarter with the Longhorns (5-1, 2-1) holding a precarious 21-14 lead. On an 11-play, 71-yard touchdown drive, Benson carried the ball eight times for 57 yards, including the final six plays.
Benson, who entered the game averaging 181.8 yards, scored from 14 yards away with 12:52 to play. That proved to be the winning score.
Safety Jason Simpson said the fury and frustration Benson and the loss caused will fuel the Tigers’ preparation for next Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State.
“We’re already talking about practicing harder than we ever have, being focused,” Simpson said. “However much you did last week, you do twice as much this week. It takes a lot to win.”
Simpson said he was also furious because the Tigers did not recover three of the four fumbles they forced.
Despite the deciding touchdown drive, the Tigers’ defense continued their recent strong play. They forced three more turnovers and held the Longhorns to less than 300 yards. When the Longhorns needed yards, they went to Benson.
“The offensive line, (fullback) Will Matthews and Cedric Benson took over the game,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “We weren’t moving the ball then the 11-play, 71-yard drive was key for us to keep our defense off the field and put them down by 14.”
Before Benson made the game’s deciding impact, mistakes and miscues hampered both teams.
The Tigers looked to throw the ball early. They attempted seven passes on their first nine plays. The trend cost them on their ninth, a first-and-10 from their 3-yard line. Smith attempted a quick slant, but defensive end Brian Robison jumped into the passing lane and returned the interception for a two-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
The score marked the first time the Tigers have trailed in the first quarter this year.
A possible big play for the defense turned into disaster on a first-and-15 near the end of the first. Linebacker James Kinney had blitzed from the left and had a clear shot at Young. Kinney, though, failed to properly tackle, electing to hit Young instead of wrap his arms around him.
Young bounced off and scrambled 23 yards for the Longhorns’ second touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
“In big games like this if you make mistakes, you’ve got to overcome them,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “We didn’t do that.”
That drive culminated a four-play 80-yard drive, which included some offensive trickery from the Longhorns. Backup running back Romance Taylor completed a 48-yard pass on a reverse to Young. Sean Coffey pulled the Tigers to within 14-7 with a four-yard reception on a quick out in the right corner of the end zone. The drive appeared to have stalled after three plays, but the Longhorns’ 15-yard illegal participation penalty extended it.
Smith put the Tigers in scoring position with a 26-yard scamper down the left sideline.
Energized by the touchdown, the Tigers’ defense responded, shutting down the Longhorns. On third-and-4 from the Texas 26, cornerback Shirdonya Mitchell received a gift-wrapped interception from Young. Mitchell, who has four interceptions this year, returned it to the Texas 33.
On the next play, running back Damien Nash took a handoff and went untouched to the end zone to tie it at 14. The touchdown came one minute, 29 seconds after the first.
The Tigers’ defense, as it has all season, created another opportunity for the offense. Receiving pressure from both sides, Young overthrew his receiver and the ball went into the safety Nino Williams II’s hands.
On the play, Young left the game with a bruised sternum after David Richard hit him after he had released the ball. Richard was not penalized, though he appeared to have hit him late. Young did not return.
Smith and the offense, though, threw away the momentum with another mistake. On a fourth-and-5 from the Longhorns’ 27, Smith underthrew wide receiver Brad Ekwerekwu, Aaron Ross stepped in front and returned it 64 yards to the Missouri 12.
After the game, Pinkel defended the decision to go for it on fourth down.
“There’s no decision to kick a field goal,” he said. “I know what my guy can do and what I can’t do, so don’t anybody tell me when I should kick a field goal or not.”
Two plays later Benson made it 21-14 with a 13-yard touchdown run.
The Longhorns had appeared to have regained a 14-point advantage on the second play of the second half. Benson went around the right side for 61 yards and a touchdown, but a holding penalty erased the gain. Texas ended up punting after two subsequent incompletions.