Tigers Sproled out

It's never been a good day for Missouri when it travels to Manhattan, and Saturday was no different, with the Tigers falling to Kansas State and losing its chance to win the Big 12 North.

MANHATTAN, Kan. – The TBS cameras couldn't have captured it better.

After Kansas State sacked Missouri quarterback Brad Smith on third down, TBS went to its camera in the coaches' booth and showed Missouri offensive coordinator with his hands on his hand, shaking his head.

If the camera was on defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, the expression probably wouldn't have changed much.

There wasn't much else for Missouri to do but shake its head after Kansas State's running game and defense paved the way for the Wildcats to win the Big 12 North with a 24-14 win.

The Tigers dropped to 7-4 and 3-4 in the conference, ending any hope of becoming division champions. That title belongs to the Wildcats, who went to 10-3 and 6-2 in the conference.

"Obviously, our first attempt at a championship game … we have a way to go," Gary Pinkel said.

The much-hyped quarterback battle between Smith and Kansas State's Ell Roberson became moot, with one team's running back taking over the game while the other's barely got a chance until the end.

Missouri had no answer for stopping the Wildcats' Darren Sproles, who rushed for two touchdowns and 273 yards, easily the most yards Missouri has given up to a rusher this season.

"This whole game goes back to tackle to tackle on both sides of the ball," Pinkel said.

Sproles, who stands at 5 feet, 7 inches and 170 pounds, didn't have to do much of his trademark cutting and spinning. He had wide-open lanes up middle for most of the game, and he started early. With 8:30 left in the first half, Sproles had 140 yards, or seven times Missouri's rushing yardage at that point.

"There was something wrong with our defense," defensive lineman Russ Bell said. "We couldn't stop the run, so we couldn't stop them."

The Wildcats didn't vary their offense because they had little need to. Sproles, who had 43 carries and two catches in the game, was involved with 48.2 percent of the Wildcats plays.

While trailing for 14 or more points for most of the game, Missouri made several important second-half mistakes to keep itself outside of striking distance.

With the Tigers down 21-7 five minutes into the second half, Nino Williams intercepted an overthrown pass by Roberson and returned it to the Missouri 48. The Tigers advanced to the Kansas State 10, but Darius Outlaw's lazy route across the endzone was jumped by Louis Lavender resulting in a demoralizing interception.

Then, with Missouri's deficit extended to 24-7 in the fourth, Missouri had Kansas State pinned down with a third-and-29 from its own 26. Roberson ran for only 15 yards, but C.J. Mosley hit him after he went down, and the late hit foul gave Kansas State a first down. The Wildcats kept on driving, and the better field position allowed Kansas State punter Jared Brite to pin the Tigers in at their own one yard line for the next possession.

"That's how fast it happens," Missouri cornerback Calvin Washington sad. "You think you're hustling … unfortunately, that happened. It's the past."

Missouri, which ran for 362 yards last week to boost itself to sixth in the nation in rushing, completely abandoned the run in the first half. Zack Abron didn't get a single rushing attempt until the third quarter after he gained one yard on the first play of the game.

In total, Missouri's running backs only had three carries in the entire first half as Kansas State went up to a 21-7 lead.

"We tried a lot of different things," Pinkel said. "It's really easy to sit up there and say, ‘Why didn't you do this, do that.'"

In the second half, though, Abron got at least some chances to make an impact. He rushed eight times in the half for 70 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown run to make it 24-14 with 3:18 left. The onside kick failed, and the Wildcats ran out the clock. Pinkel didn't use any of his three timeouts as they did so.

With two games to go, assuming Missouri gets a bowl bid, Abron needs only 12 yards for the record. Clearly upset after the game, Abron wasn't about to credit the Kansas State defense. "They're not that quick," he said.

Asked who was the quickest, Abron said, "I don't know, but not K-State."

Saturday night's game had the fewest carries for Abron this season, and the fewest since last season's game against Kansas State, when he also rushed nine times, but only for seven yards.

Trailing 14-0 with less than six minutes left in the first half, Missouri recovered a botched Kansas State handoff at the Wildcat 2-yard line. On the next play, Smith found backup tight end DeQuincy Howard in the west end of the end zone to make it 14-7.

On the next drive, Kansas State went 80 yards in 5:02 and scored on a one-yard Roberson sneak to go back ahead by 14.

Missouri got the ball back with 30 seconds left in the half, and Smith found Thomson Omboga for 18 yards on the first play of the drive. After a sack and an incomplete pass, Pinkel sent out Matheny for what was officially a 61-yard field-goal attempt, but Matheny kicked it from 62 yards.

"I looked up and said, ‘Holy crap, that's a long way,'" Matheny said.

Matheny's kick was a line drive, and it smacked into the crossbar of the goalpost, barely falling short. It would have been Missouri's longest field goal since a 62-yarder in 1986 by Tom Whelihan, who was in the press box for Saturday's game.


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