COLUMBIA — Following a 43-yard touchdown catch by Texas A&M tight end Martellus Bennett, it appeared that the Tigers’ quest for a division championship could halt just as it was gaining steam.
But up by only five points in the fourth quarter, and having difficulty stopping the exhausting Aggie running game, the Tigers clamped down. Eighty yards and more than four minutes later, the Tigers closed out a 40-26 victory over Texas A&M that might mean more than just their ninth of this season.
“I think that without question you grow from this as long as it comes out positive. There is no way you grow unless you go through the adversity,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “When you win in the fourth quarter, that is a huge plus for you.”
His quarterback thinks of it a little differently.
“I don’t think you ever want games like this or need games like this but its good to have it,” Chase Daniel said. “I’d rather be blowing people out by 60 if we possibly can.”
Looking at the margin and ease with which Missouri had earned its last three wins, you can’t help but agree with Pinkel. The Tigers’ last three victories before Saturday had come by an average margin of 31 points, and the surging defense had allowed just under 10 points per game in that stretch.
But those statistics didn’t mean much when the Tigers stood at their own 20 at, arguably, the game’s most critical time. Before the drive, Daniel eased any reservations some might have had on the sideline.
“I got all the offensive line and Tony (Temple) together and told them this is what champions are made of,” Daniel said. “If we want a shot at anything we have to go down and score.”
The junior, who finished with 353 yards and three touchdowns, maneuvered the offense down the field, achieving only first and second downs. And when the his final touchdown pass, a 12-yard dump and run to receiver Jeremy Maclin, crossed the goal line, this Tiger team that has been all about reaching new ground found a way to keep the quest alive.
“Answering the call in the fourth quarter, which is what coach Pinkel has been preaching to us all season is huge for us and, by God, we did it,” Daniel said.
The victory gives the Tigers a fifth Big 12 Conference win for the first time in the Gary Pinkel era. But even with representatives from the Orange and Fiesta Bowl in attendance, Pinkel and his players did not entertain any notions of looking ahead to a possible bowl destination.
Instead, this team will look to Kansas State — a program that has beaten Missouri in 13 of the last 14 games. In fact, the Tigers have not won in Manhattan since 1991. But before they can figure out where they will be playing in late December or early January, this team would rather figure out how to come out of the “Little Apple” with a victory.
“My big thing is to keep them focused on what they have to do and they know that if you don’t put all your focus and concentration on this, it’s not going to happen,” Pinkel said.
GABBERT COMMITS: Quarterback Blaine Gabbert, from Parkway West High School in St. Louis, who de-committed from the Nebraska Cornhuskers last month due to their uncertainty within the coaching staff, gave word to Pinkel after the game that he was switching his commitment to Missouri, according to Rivals.com.