AUSTIN, Texas – Missouri entered Saturday’s game at No. 9 Texas as the Big 12 Conference’s top defensive unit. Although the Tigers allowed 299 yards against the Longhorns after averaging 259.4 yards, the defense did its part in keeping Missouri close.
Texas marched 70 yards down the field on its opening possession and was ready to push the ball in the end zone when Missouri’s defense made its first big play of the day to keep the Tigers in the game.
Facing a third-and-two from the Missouri 10-yard line, Longhorns running back Cedric Benson dropped the handoff from Vince Young and C.J. Mosley pounced on the loose ball to keep the game scoreless.
The Tigers (4-2, 2-1) forced Texas (5-1, 2-1) to punt on its next possession, but the Longhorns offense dominated in the first quarter. The Longhorns’ finished with 193 yards rushing, but could only put together two long scoring drives.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he was pleased with his team’s defensive effort against the top rushing offense in the country.
“They actually had two drives against our defense the entire day,” Pinkel said. “The one drive, they did an excellent job, their offensive line, the one drive at the end of the third quarter, and the first or second play of the fourth … But there were only two drives the entire football game, that was it.
“So I think our defense played pretty darn good against a very good offense.”
Missouri entered the game allowing only 98 rushing yards per game, but Texas ran through the Tigers’ defense for 99 in the first quarter. Benson, the nation’s second-leading rusher with more than 167 yards per game, had 42 yards and Young ran for 53 yards in the quarter.Young’s total included a 23-yard score after escaping from James Kinney in the backfield.
The Tigers’ defense stiffened in the second quarter, though, to lead Missouri’s comeback from a 14-0 deficit.
With Missouri trailing and its offense sputtering, the defensive unit forced Texas to punt from its 21 when the Longhorns had the opportunity to blow the game open. The stop sparked the offense, which drove 66 yards to pull within 14-7 and change the momentum.
The momentum stayed on Missouri’s side when Texas’ struggles in the passing game surfaced.Young was intercepted on the Longhorns’ next two possessions. Shirdonya Mitchell got one and Nino Williams II had the other.
Williams II said the defensive effort does not matter. “We gave up more points than Texas did, that’s what it all boils down to,” Williams II said. “We lost together. It wasn’t defense played well, offense didn’t. Offense played well, defense didn’t. As a team we lost and as a team we have to rebound.”
The Longhorns gained only 17 yards in the quarter, with 13 coming on a Benson touchdown run with 1:37 left in the second. The Longhorns took possession at Missouri’s 12 on the scoring drive after Aaron Ross returned an interception 64 yards.
Although the Tigers dominated the middle two quarters, the Longhorns went back to their forte, running the football, when the close game moved into the fourth quarter.
“Texas can run the ball regardless and that’s their whole thing, they were leading the nation in rushing, so they wanted to establish the run and they did a good job of that,” Mitchell said. “We shut them down a couple of times and they opened the pass game and they did a little passing, but they stuck to their bread-and-butter, which is running.”
After gaining only one first down in the second quarter, the Longhorns offense continued to struggle in the third before putting together one final long drive to go back up, 28-14. The Longhorns gained three first downs in the third quarter, two coming on Texas’ final scoring drive during which Benson carried eight times for 59 yards. He ended with 150 yards.
Despite Benson’s solid game, safety Jason Simpson said the Longhorns’ success came as a result of Missouri forgetting to play fundamentally sound football.
“We did pretty well,” Simpson said. “…Missed tackles, just not wrapping up, just trying to hit people and knock them down instead of wrapping up. It’s just fundamentals is what it all goes back to.”