On Saturday night, the #25 Missouri Tigers (3-0) scored a dramatic 27-24 comeback win in a wild roller-coaster ride of a game over San Diego State (2-1). All week, Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel had told everyone that San Diego State was very good. After the game, he had this to say about the Aztecs.
"First of all, San Diego State played very, very well," concluded Coach Pinkel, "Probably good enough to win."
After Ronnie Hillman's 93 yard TD run had given San Diego State a 4th quarter lead, the Aztecs had extended that lead to 24-21, having converted Missouri's 3rd turnover of the game into a FG. A little later, Blaine Gabbert led his team back out onto the field to take possession of the ball on Missouri's 12 yard line with 1:22 left on the clock.
As Missouri took the field to begin executing their two-minute offense, T.J. Moe went up to Blaine Gabbert, and shook his hand.
"It's time to be great," Moe told the junior QB.
And, great they were. After Gabbert completed a pass to Jerrell Jackson that netted 20 yards, Moe took a Gabbert pass out along the left sideline, juked his way past the first defender, picked up a block from Jackson that took out two SDSU defenders, and raced up the left sideline 68 yards for the go ahead TD.
Later, Moe talked about coming onto the field in that situation.
"This team doesn't give up. We believe," said Moe. "That's the bottom line. When it's 1:30 left, it's time to be great................. We just went out there and executed."
At times for Missouri on Saturday, execution was wanting. The Tigers broke on top with a well executed 9-play TD drive on their first possession. San Diego State answered with a 10-play TD drive of their own. After this first Aztec drive, Missouri made defensive adjustments that, except for 2 plays, stymied San Diego State's running game, and allowed Missouri to take a 17-7 lead late into the second quarter.
Then late in the first half, and with the Aztecs facing 3rd and 6 at their own 25, Missouri went with a pass prevent defensive personnel package and alignment. San Diego State freshman running back, Ronnie Hillman, broke free on a draw play and went the distance for a 75-yard rushing TD that pulled them to within 17-14 with 19 seconds left in the half. The Aztecs went into the locker room with momentum and the knowledge that they would get the ball to open the second half.
Missouri stopped San Diego State on their opening possession of the second half, and Blaine Gabbert and the Tigers went on a 12-play 3rd quarter drive that netted a Grant Ressel FG to push Missouri's lead out to 20-14. It was at this point in the game when Gabbert and the Missouri offense self-destructed. Gabbert, who finished with 28 for 51 passing, for 351 yards and 1 TD against 2 INTs, was sacked once, and fumbled twice, both recovered by Missouri. De'Vion Moore also fumbled, deep in Missouri's own territory, to set up San Diego State with a golden opportunity to take the lead early in the 4th quarter. But, Kevin Rutland picked off a San Diego State pass near the goal line to thwart the Aztec scoring threat.
The Tigers failed to move the ball, but Matt Grabner flipped the field with a 58 punt, and following two San Diego State penalties, the Aztecs took over on their own 6-yard line with just under 12 minutes left in the game. On 2nd and 9, Hillman took a hand-off and started up into the middle of the line. He appeared to be bottled up, and about to go down near the line of scrimmage when one of his offensive linemen grabbed him and spun around with him, thrusting Hillman up field. Hillman kept his balance, and took off toward the end zone for a 93-yard TD that put the Aztecs ahead 21-20.
Missouri's offensive woes continued, as Gabbert couldn't connect with his receivers, and was intercepted twice. San Diego State widened their lead to 24-21 following one of the interceptions. It was especially during this fourth quarter that the Missouri defense kept the Tigers in this game.
"Our defense kept us in the game the whole time," opined T.J. Moe, referring to his defensive teammates' tenacity in the face of his team's offensive ineptitude.
Coach Pinkel talked about how his team hung together through all of their difficulties, and just seemed to refuse to lose, despite going through quite a stretch where they didn't play well at all. He pointed to the 3-1 turnover ratio in favor of San Diego State, saying that such a statistic almost always accompanies a loss. He talked about how his team showed great character, and would need to learn from their mistakes.
"I am very proud of our football team," said Coach Pinkel. "We had a lot of adversity out there.................. We made some mistakes, especially in the 4th quarter. (We) found a way, as competitors. The character of our football team showed up at the end. It was a never give up attitude."
The Tigers will get back to work this week, and try to get better. There's a lot to work on, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The Tigers need to identify another receiving threat, or two, to go along with Moe and Egnew. Someone to reliably stretch the field would help. They need to improve their running game, and most importantly, Blaine Gabbert has to play better.