In a season when Missouri has discovered nearly every way to lose a football game, the Tigers found yet another way Saturday against Kansas.
After perfecting second-half collapses and special teams blunders, the Tigers failed to show up early against the Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium. But unlike the comebacks the Tigers allowed, Missouri’s frantic rally fell short.
The Tigers’ 31-14 loss ended their chances for a bowl game as they fell to 4-6 and 2-5 in the Big 12 Conference. The loss also eliminated them from Big 12 North Division contention. Senior safety Nino Williams II said the Tigers failed to play their style in the first three quarters, which led to their fifth straight defeat.
“It’s not hard,” Williams said. “Either you have it or you don’t. You shouldn’t need any pep talks, you shouldn’t need any pampering. You shouldn’t need it, man. You should have that same fire week in and week out, and as you all can see, we didn’t have it starting off.
“Did you see any enthusiasm at first? We didn’t play Missouri football. Like I always say man, if Missouri plays Missouri football, everything will be all right. We didn’t start off playing Missouri football and we started for a second, but it was too late.”
Williams was not the only Tiger frustrated about the lack of energy to start a game that guard Joe Gianino described earlier in the week as a rivalry that “goes back to blood.” Thomson Omboga said it is unfathomable to him how the team could not get fired up for Kansas (4-7, 2-6).
“I really don’t have an explanation for how we came out, how we played, but I know we had a lot of other guys out there that were more than ready to play,” Omboga said. “So if all of us aren’t on the same page, it’s going to look that way and we weren’t on the same page so I guess that’s how it looked.”
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was also unable to put a finger on the team’s lackluster showing after a bye week.
“I don’t know (what caused the Tigers to play well in the fourth quarter),” Pinkel said. “Should have the first quarter and the second quarter. I’m responsible for that. A lot out there. There was a lot out there for us, certainly the seniors, a bowl game, the possibility of a bowl game, the possibility of a winning season. All those things were out there. We had a great week of practice, but we just didn’t play well.”
The crowd of 53,408 turned against the Tigers early. When Missouri was forced to punt on its third consecutive series to open the game, the fans started to reign boos down on the Tigers.
While the fans turned against the Tigers, Kansas pulled away. Brian Luke, Kansas’ fourth starting quarterback of the season, and back-up running back Clark Green shredded the Tigers’ conference-leading defense. Green ran for 118 yards and Luke completed 24-of-36 passes for 239 yards.
Entering the game, Missouri had allowed 288 yards per game, but the Jayhawks surpassed that total on a touchdown drive early in the third quarter. Luke found Lyone Anderson wide open behind the Tiger defense for a 30-yard score. Kansas finished with 374 yards of total offense.
Luke did show signs of inexperience on the Jayhawks’ first three drives of the fourth quarter. He was 1-of-5 for nine yards and an interception that set up Missouri’s final score. Brad Smith hit Sean Coffey with a 34-yard touchdown pass on the next play to make the score 28-14.
Williams said the fourth-quarter turnaround resulted from the Tigers realizing their season was on the brink. The defense finally put pressure on the Kansas offense to begin the final quarter, leading to a turnover. The offense made the big plays that were not there earlier.
The momentum turned in the Tigers’ favor but was extinguished when a screen pass that Damien Nash turned into a 42-yard touchdown was called back on a holding penalty against Martin Rucker.
Smith’s touchdown pass to Coffey, which gave the receiver the Tigers’ single-season touchdown record with 10, was nearly the lone success for Smith. He finished 15-of-40 for 262 yards, but also had one interception and for the first time in his collegiate career finished with negative rushing yards. Smith rushed 13 times, losing 41. Part of Smith’s problems came from a relentless pass rush from Kansas. The Jayhawks finished with six sacks, an effort that surprised Kansas coach Mark Mangino.
“Pass-rush wise, without looking at the tape, it’s one of the best efforts we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Mangino said. “One of the best efforts from a defensive line period. I thought those guys were going to tire out in the fourth quarter they were going so hard, because Missouri was passing every down. But they didn’t let up. I guess they were playing on adrenaline.”
Highs and lows
CROSSETT THE CRUSHER:After Charles Gordon returned a punt 22 yards to the Missouri 28, punter Adam Crossett, the last man on the play, halted Gordon’s run and forced a fumble. Martin Rucker recovered for Missouri.
LIFTOFF:Little-used William “the Helicopter” Franklin made his
presence felt in the second half. With 45 seconds left, quarterback Brad Smith hit Franklin for a 40-yard completion on a post route. Franklin also caught a 46-yard pass with 11:30 left in the fourth.
PUNT RETURNING PROFICIENCY:To help extend the Tigers’ second-half rally, Thomson Omboga had a
44-yard punt return. He returned to the Kansas 42 before punter Kyle Tucker made the tackle.
FUTILE FIRST HALF:The Tigers’ offense couldn’t get anything going until late in the first half. MU had fewer first downs (five) than punts (six). The Tigers had only seven completions.
SACKING THE MOMENTUM:Missouri allowed a season-high six sacks. David McMillan’s third sack with 7:22 left essentially stopped Missouri’s fourth-quarter rally. McMillan led the team with three.
MISSOURI BEATING MISSOURI:A holding call on Martin Rucker erased a 42-yard touchdown completion to Damien Nash with 7:44 left. Smith found Nash on a screen on the left. Nash cut back to the right and went untouched to the end zone. It would have made the score 28-20.