Like the rest of the Missouri football team on Saturday, tight ends Martin Rucker and Victor Sesay had an impressive first half.
Then they disappeared.
A successful first half receiving for the tight ends that included a Rucker touchdown catch did not continue when the teams returned from the locker room. Missouri (4-3, 2-2) fizzled in the 20-17 loss to No. 20 Oklahoma State and compiled just 87 yards of offense in the second half, including 31 passing yards.
Both tight ends caught only one pass in the second half after combining for seven receptions in the first. Rucker and Sesay combined for 50 yards receiving, more than half of quarterback Brad Smith’s 96 passing yards against the Cowboys (6-1, 3-1).
After the game, Sesay tried to explain what happened in the second half.
“Obviously we probably didn’t come out with enough focus,” he said. “We probably thought the game was over in the first half, but we had adversity and we just didn’t overcome it.”
Sesay and Rucker continued their strong play Saturday. Their combination of size and athleticism make them viable receiving options that are difficult for opponents to cover.
Sesay took the team lead with 23 receptions this season after catching four passes Saturday. He ranks second in receiving yards with 226 and has two touchdowns. Rucker has 17 catches this season for 214 yards and has the third-most touchdowns on the team with four.
Although the Cowboys overcame early struggles to give the Missouri defense problems, it was the inability of Missouri’s offense to put together a scoring drive that decided the game.
In the first half, Smith completed passes to seven different receivers. Rucker led with four receptions and Sesay followed with three.
After halftime, though, Smith completed only five passes and the Tigers had five first downs, compared to 12 in the first half.
Coach Gary Pinkel decided to rely on the running attack with a 10-point lead in the second half, and Rucker and Sesay did not enjoy the same success they had before halftime.
The Tigers used a diverse attack to outplay the Cowboys on offense in the first half. They were successful moving the ball using the run and the pass. Because the Cowboys blitzed often, Rucker and Sesay got open and hurt Oklahoma State for short gains.
Rucker caught his fourth touchdown of the season with no time left in the first quarter on a four-yard pass from Smith.
Smith initially rolled to his right on the play with Rucker open in the back of the end zone, but he decided not to pass Rucker the ball. Smith then traversed the field and before he crossed the line of scrimmage, threw a pass across his body to Rucker in the middle of the end zone.
“The first time Brad had saw me and then he looked away so I thought somebody was trailing me or something like that,” Rucker said. “I slid back a little bit to the left and I just tried to find a hole and finally he was able to get the ball to me.”