Story by Jason Brynsvold
Photos by Andrew Wamboldt
What looked like a promising comeback opportunity early in the second half for Missouri turned into another disappointing loss for the Tigers, this time falling to Oklahoma State, 45-24.
Missouri quarterback James Franklin fights Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert for extra yards on a rushing attempt.
Multiple times in the second half, the Tigers looked like they had a chance to grab momentum and cut into the Cowboys’ lead. Each time Missouri had that chance they made a crucial turnover that hurt their chances of an upset win against the No. 4 team in the nation.
“You play a team like this, you can’t make mistakes,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “Generally the team that makes the fewest mistakes will increase their chances of winning and obviously we made a lot more mistakes than they did.”
The mistakes that have seemed to pop up at the most inopportune times all year for the Tigers happened frequently again on Saturday.
Even when the game looked long over, Missouri rebounded to score a touchdown that cut the lead to 14, forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at the Oklahoma State 35-yard line after a good punt return from E.J. Gaines with six minutes left. With a bit of momentum and an excited crowd, James Franklin’s first pass of the ensuing drive was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Oklahoma State defensive lineman Richetti Jones.
The Tigers ended with four turnovers, all coming at crucial junctures in the game and all coming on turnovers by Franklin: two tipped passes at the line ended in interceptions, one floating ball down the left sideline was picked off and one inexplicable fumble inside the Oklahoma State 10-yard line helped seal the Tigers’ fate on Saturday.
A lot of these backbreaking turnovers happened after the Missouri defense or special teams did something positive, seemingly creating momentum to help the offense out, but the Tiger offense never took advantage.
“It’s definitely pretty frustrating going out there after a big turnover or a big stop and then the first play or a play in that series you get a turnover because it definitely takes the wind out,” Franklin said. “We’re expected to put up points, but then we have a turnover so that kind of deflates our offense.”
Without the turnovers, Mizzou’s offense actually performed comparably to the explosive Oklahoma State offense. The Tigers piled up 463 yards and 26 first downs compared to 533 yards and 27 first downs for the Cowboys. While they struggled early, the Missouri offense moved the ball successfully on the ground again this week, rushing 52 times for 248 yards.
The defense, tasked with stopping the second-ranked scoring offense in the nation coming into the game (49.2 per game), also rebounded nicely after a rough start to the game.
After going 20-for-26 for 246 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter plus the first play of the second quarter, Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden finished the rest of the game 13-for-23 for only 111 yards.
The highlight for the Missouri defense came on an interception by E.J. Gaines in the end zone, which he then returned to the Oklahoma State 47-yard line. It was another huge momentum swing in a game that seemed to have an infinite amount of game-changing plays.
While the pass defense improved throughout the game, the rush defense cost the team a chance at a comeback in the latter parts of the second half. The Cowboys rushed for three scores in the second half and put more of an emphasis on the running game after losing their top two receivers, Justin Blackmon and Hubert Anyiam, to injury.
The defense was also put in a number of tough spots due to turnovers by Franklin, but Tiger defenders were still not pleased with how they performed.
“They have good players, good athletes,” safety Kenji Jackson said. “I feel like we were in positions to make plays, but we just didn’t make the play. It’s been like that for us a little bit this whole season.”
With another tough loss for the Tigers, their record falls below .500 for the second time this season, this time to 3-4. With five games left in the season, Mizzou must win three games to become bowl-eligible. Mizzou players said that they feel the sense of urgency to get to six wins, but can’t get too far ahead of themselves.
“The stress kind of builds up and you kind of feel the weight on your shoulders, but you really got to come up every game and be prepared to play each game at a time because if you look forward too much, that’s really when the season goes downhill,” cornerback E.J. Gaines said.
Still, the Tigers have struggled this season and have failed to put together a complete game against a quality opponent, with the exception of the homecoming win against Iowa State last weekend. They say they will go back to the drawing board this week and try to get back on track, starting with a road game against Texas A&M next weekend.
“We just have to go back to work and we have to continue to work in order to get to where we want to be. There are still a lot of games left to be played,” defensive end Jacquies Smith said. “We just have to win, simple as that.”