On Saturday night, the #11 Missouri Tigers (7-0, 3-0) moved to 7-0 for the first time in 50 years, with a 36-27 win over the #1 Oklahoma Sooners (6-1, 2-1). This was Gary Pinkel's first win over the Sooners. Coach Pinkel, who often feels that you can smile too much, couldn't get the smile off of his face.
"It's a historic night," began Coach Pinkel. "It's a great win, obviously, for our football program. It's a great win for our fans, too. Tiger Walk today was like beyond what it's ever been. So, I'm real proud of a lot of people for this. It's hard to win. It was a battle. It went down to the end and they are a tough team. So, I'm real proud of our team. When you play a great team like that, not everything is going to fall into place."
In what was a hard-fought, physical football game, Missouri won on the score board. The Tigers won up front, in the trenches, on both sides of the football, and won virtually every statistical category, including rushing, passing, total offense, turnover margin, and special teams. This was a thorough victory over the very talented Sooners, nailed down with a dominant 4th quarter, during which the Tigers outscored Oklahoma 16-6, and controlled the football for almost 13 minutes (12:52). Missouri confirmed their inclusion among college football's elite, on a day when Missouri's fans stepped up their game to the level of the team's on-field performance. After the game, Missouri Defensive Coordinator, Dave Steckel, thanked the fans for their help.
"I want to say, speaking for the entire football team, that the fans did a fantastic job with the Tiger Walk," began Coach Steckel. "It was a very surreal experience. And, our kids really appreciate it. And, I really hope they all come back for the next home game, too."
Oklahoma has borrowed a page from Missouri's 2007 fastball offense, with their up-tempo play, which proved to be very effective against the Tigers, especially in the first half. As the game moved along, Missouri's defense adjusted to the quicker sequence of plays. Afterward, Coach Steckel talked about how they dealt with Oklahoma's offensive pace.
"One of our plans, Coach Kuligowski came up with a great idea," explained Coach Steckel. "We didn't sub unless they were on our hash mark. A little bit in the middle of the field. But, when they were on the far hash, we didn't want to substitute, and make any mistakes substitution-wise. And the other thing is, we let the kids play. We gave them like three calls, and we let them handle it. Then, when they slowed down a little bit, and we were able to look, then we (the coaches) were able to make a call."
"All week, we worked on that up-tempo style," added senior safety, Jarrell Harrison. "We knew that they were going to try and fastball us, but we were prepared for it. We knew they had explosive guys, but we came out and did our thing. We knew we had a chance to make Mizzou history and beat Oklahoma for the first time here in a while.................. The fans were great, from Tiger Walk, to the last second of the fourth quarter. They were great! And, we can't thank them enough."
Oklahoma was very well prepared to defend Missouri, and effectively slowed Missouri's inside receivers, T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew. But, Missouri Offensive Coordinator, David Yost, had the answers. Yost's offense probed the Oklahoma defense, and found some openings. One of Yost's answers was found in the openings up front that allowed Missouri to run the football on the Sooners for 178 yards on 39 carries (4.6 yards/carry). De'Vion Moore (10 carries for 73 yards, and 1 TD) and Henry Josey (14 carries for 64 yards) led the Tigers' rushing attack.
Yost had another answer in the vertical passing game. Missouri's offensive line gave Blaine Gabbert the protection to repeatedly get the ball down the field to his outside receivers. Gabbert finished with 30 completions on 42 pass attempts (71%), for 308 yards, and 1 TD. His favorite target on the night was Jerrell Jackson, who had 9 receptions for 139 yards and 1 TD, the one that put Missouri ahead for good. For the second straight week, Gabbert had elevated his performance, and appears to be playing the best football of his career. Afterward, Gabbert talked about his team's win.
"It was a great game, and a collective team effort," said Gabbert. "We won the battle in the trenches. The offensive line was awesome! You've just got to rise to the occasion. This is an extremely big football game for this team, this university and this state. We just showed them that we're here to stay. There were huge implications in this football game and we just had to go out, stay focused, and play our game. Oklahoma gave us the options in the second level in the vertical passing attack and we took advantage of that. They were taking away the underneath stuff. So, we just had to capitalize on our opportunities."
Coach Pinkel talked about the play of his QB.
"Our offensive line did a good job," began Coach Pinkel. "Blaine, obviously, had a great day.................. That's huge that he didn't turn the ball over. It's a great win for him as a quarterback, because he did little things to help the football team. He also did some great things to give our team a chance to win the game."
Heading into this season, the development of leadership within this young team, and team chemistry, were unknown ingredients. Those questions have been answered. Quality leadership abounds. And, team chemistry is evident all around.
Senior corner, Kevin Rutland, has taken on a leadership role on this team in this, his fifth year. Following Saturday's game, an excited Rutland talked about team chemistry.
"Tonight, just shows how close of a team we are, and that we're a finishing team," said an emotional Rutland. "When it comes down to a game like this, it makes those moments just so much more memorable now, and they mean so much now, because you're growing up with a family, not just a team. It's your brothers out there. When you win a game like this it just shows that it wasn't in vain, all your hard work wasn't in vain."
"The great thing about our team," added Coach Steckel. "The thing, in my opinion, that makes our team so special, with chemistry, is they're unselfish. They're very unselfish.................... I really think they love each other. They really care about each other, and they look out for each other................. It's fun to be around right now."