OXFORD, Miss. — It should have been a laugher, a 30-minute sitcom starring quarterback Chase Daniel and his talented ensemble of receivers, tight ends and running backs.
But Missouri scrapped that script in favor of another 60-minute drama against Ole Miss on Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The Tigers dominated in the first half, allowed Ole Miss fans to regain hope in the second half, then held on to beat the Rebels 38-25.
“I wasn’t eating hot dogs in the fourth quarter to relax,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said. Some fans weren’t around for the end of the game, leaving right after the third quarter started. They had reason to believe the game was over. Daniel had just thrown his fifth touchdown pass of the game, a 37-yard pass to wide receiver Greg Bracey.
Missouri led 38-13. The fans were silent. Their red-and-blue pompoms were motionless, stashed under the bleachers or lying in their laps. They were as weary as the Rebels’ defense, which had allowed four Daniel touchdown passes during the second quarter.
But the offense doesn’t make up the Tigers’ entire cast. The defense played its role to poor reviews Saturday, failing to stop Ole Miss running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
“I’m disappointed with the run defense and the amount of points we gave up,” Pinkel said. Streaking outside or busting through the middle of the line, Green-Ellis frequently ran into the secondary. He broke numerous long runs, gaining 228 yards on 33 carries and scoring a touchdown.
The Rebels’ offensive line dominated the Tigers. The defense didn’t have answers. “I really can’t say what the problem is,” safety Pig Brown said. The crowd was roused as Ole Miss shot back, scoring two touchdowns to cut the lead to 38-25 at the start of the fourth quarter. On the ensuing drive, the Rebels stuffed Daniel to force a punt. The crowd roared like it did at the beginning of the game when legendary Rebels quarterback Archie Manning appeared on the Sony JumboTron and asked the 50,897 fans, “Are you ready?”
Ole Miss got the ball and drove into Missouri territory, but the defense played like it did against Illinois, giving up large amounts of yardage (534 against Ole Miss) but making crucial stops at the end. Rebels receiver Shay Hodge watched the ball sail over his outstretched arms in the end zone as Missouri took over on downs with 6 minutes, 10 seconds remaining in the game. It was the Rebels’ last threat.
The Rebels’ comeback overshadowed another impressive performance from Daniel. He was 31-of-43 for 330 yards and threw five touchdowns. He also carried the ball 10 times for 66 yards.
Pinkel was in awe of his star.
“I have said this since last year,” he said. “I have never been around a guy like that.” But Daniel and the offense slowed down in the fourth quarter, failing to run out the clock by picking up first downs. They were frustrated.
“Of course I was mad when the offense stood up. We don’t want to draw on the negative things,” Daniel said. “Of course we have to get it fixed and we’re going to get it fixed. Look at the 540 yards we put up today.”
Pinkel took responsibility for the sluggish offensive finish.
“I have to manage that clock with Chase Daniel and (offensive coordinator) Dave Christensen and do that better,” he said.