The magic number is now one.
A single win separates Missouri from guaranteed bowl eligibility after its 45-14 victory over New Mexico State on Saturday night. That’s the big takeaway from the Tigers’ penultimate game of the 2022 season, which kicked off in sub-freezing temperatures and only grew colder.
Frigid temps, the beginning of Thanksgiving break for MU students and a nonconference opponent on the opposite sideline produced an odd environment at a relatively empty Memorial Stadium. None of that mattered, though. The Tigers only needed a win, and they took care of business, scoring the game’s first 28 points en route to a comfortable victory on senior night.
“The challenge for our team and seniors was to play to our standard and not let our opponent dictate how we performed,” coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “I thought we did that today.”
Missouri (5-6, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) hadn’t played a nonconference opponent in its penultimate regular-season game since 2012, when it lost to Syracuse 31–27. The Tigers didn’t mess around this time, putting up 443 yards of total offense and scoring on six of its nine possessions against New Mexico State (4-6).
Luther Burden scored the game’s first touchdown, taking a screen pass 12 yards along the sideline before hurdling into the end zone with 6:14 left in the first quarter. The Tigers converted on fourth-and-5 earlier in the drive to keep their opening offensive possession alive and ultimately take a 7-0 lead. The score was Burden’s first of two touchdowns on Saturday night.
A 2-yard run up the gut by Cody Schrader put Missouri up 14-0 at the beginning of the second quarter, capping a 17-play, 81-yard drive. The senior finished the afternoon with 70 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and 47 yards receiving.
Ryan Hoerstkamp joined in on the fun midway through the second quarter, making a catch at the Aggies’ 30-yard line and running down the near sideline for the score — the first of his career — to give the Tigers a 21-0 lead.
“Things are starting to click offensively and some of this plays are starting to hit,” quarterback Brady Cook said. “I think we’ve played pretty consistent the past couple of weeks, but there’s stuff we can improve on and I’m looking forward to getting back to it tomorrow.”
Missouri’s defense held New Mexico State scoreless until midway through the third quarter, when running back Star Thomas put the Aggies on the board with a 10-yard rushing touchdown. True freshman quarterback Gavin Frakes scored the visitors’ only other touchdown with a 13-yard run late in the fourth quarter.
A Missouri win never felt in doubt, but the Tigers didn’t escape the night without some concern. Joseph Charleston and Isaiah McGuire, both defensive starters, went to the locker room in the first half, while Ty’Ron Hopper and Kris Abrams-Draine also suffered knocks. None of those four players returned to the game.
Sam Horn made his Missouri debut in the fourth quarter, but the prized prospect finished without a completion in his only possession under center. Jack Abraham replaced the freshman midway through the fourth quarter, completing a 10-yard pass before fumbling the ball on his first of two drives.
The Tigers sealed the win with a pair of second-half forced turnovers. Daylan Carnell had a 40-yard pick-six, scoring his first-ever collegiate touchdown, while Jalani Williams picked the ball off on the following defensive possession.
“We saw that formation (from New Mexico State) in practice all week and drilled it,” Carnell said. “The ball was there waiting on me and after that it was all end zone.”
Before players retreated to the warmth of their locker room for the final time, they made their way to the hill in the north end zone of Memorial Stadium, where 21 seniors grabbed a painted rock from the massive “M” to take home, commemorating a successful senior night in their penultimate home game.
“It means more to me than it has the past few seasons because that moment is getting closer for me,” Cook said. “To see everything those guys have been through and everything they have done for the program, it’s super special and I sure as heck tried to make it special for them tonight.”
The Tigers are now one win away from six wins and guaranteed bowl eligibility, which they can accomplish with a victory over Arkansas when the two teams face off at 2:30 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium.