For a short time in the fourth quarter on Saturday, the Missouri football team forgot how to stall its own drives and make average opponents look great.
The Tigers were once expected to compete for the Big 12 Conference title, and for a 1-minute, 26-second span they looked capable of that, scoring two touchdowns before relapsing and letting Kansas extend its two-touchdown lead by a field goal.
With the exception of that span, the Jayhawks dominated the Tigers in the 31-14 win.
After the game, coach Gary Pinkel and his players tried to determine why Missouri (4-6, 2-5 Big 12) was listless with the exception of that short run.
“I don’t know,” Pinkel said. “We should have had it the first quarter and the second quarter.”
The near comeback started when safety Nino Williams intercepted quarterback Brian Luke with 12:41 left in the game. On the next play, Brad Smith connected with wide receiver Sean Coffey for a 24-yard touchdown pass. Missouri went for a two-point conversion but failed and trailed 28-6.
After forcing Kansas (2-6, 4-7) to go three-and-out, Missouri looked impressive again on its next drive, scoring on a four-play, 27-second drive. Smith again connected with Coffey for an 11-yard touchdown, and this time the Tigers converted the two-point conversion to make the score 28-14.
“I guess you could say we wanted it more in the fourth quarter, because people around here are saying, ‘Mizzou falls off in the fourth quarter. They don’t have that fourth quarter fight in them,’ ” defensive end Zach Ville said. “I guess we came out and showed them we still have that fight.”
The Tigers were unable to continue the comeback, though, derailing on their next possession.
After a 44-yard punt return by Thomson Omboga that put the Tigers on Kansas’ 42-yard line, Smith hit Damien Nash on a short pass that Nash turned into a 42-yard touchdown.
The play was called back, though, because of a holding call on Martin Rucker, erasing the score. A touchdown would have reduced the deficit to 28-21.
Defensive end David McMillan sacked Smith for a 12-yard loss on the next play and the Tigers were forced to punt after running one more play. McMillan had three of Kansas’ six sacks Saturday.
“It was a good play and it (would have) gotten us back in the game,” Nash said. “But when you see the flag down, you got to go back there and do it again. We can’t just dwell on it.
“We have to go out there and make good plays and we didn’t do it.”
The meltdown continued when Smith threw an interception to Charles Gordon on Missouri’s next possession. The Jayhawks drove to the Missouri 8 and sealed the game with a 35-yard Johnny Beck field goal.
The fourth quarter run was indicative of the Tigers’ inability to play a full game this season. Missouri has allowed teams to come back from double-digit leads three times and has been weak in the second half during the five-game losing streak.
“We didn’t perform in any game in the third and fourth quarter until this one,” safety Jason Simpson said. “And then, too little too late.”