Blaine Gabbert looked like a star in his first college start. In Missouri’s home opener, he looked like a sophomore learning on the job.
Gabbert threw two second-half touchdown passes after an awful first half and Derrick Washington scored the go-ahead TD late in the fourth quarter, helping the 25th-ranked Tigers rally from a dud start to beat Bowling Green 27-20 Saturday night.
“It was a gutsy win,” Gabbert said. “It really checked what we’re made of, and in the end it’s going to make our team better.”
Washington had 120 yards on 23 carries for the Tigers, who jumped into the rankings after an impressive opening victory over Illinois and needed a strong finish Saturday for any hope of staying there. Missouri (2-0) trailed 13-0 in the second quarter and 20-6 midway in the third before its offense stirred.
Missouri’s point total was its fewest in a victory since beating Iowa State 27-24 on Oct. 15, 2005. The Tigers, who have beaten 10 straight non-conference opponents, averaged 42 points last year.
“I wouldn’t want to make a living doing that every Saturday,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “You can grow tremendously from it. I feel fortunate we’re 2-0.”
Bowling Green (1-1) was such a handful seldom-used Missouri punter Jake Harry was called upon seven times. Harry punted only 26 times all last season.
Tyler Sheehan was 29 for 46 for 206 yards and a touchdown and Willie Geter had 99 yards on 20 carries with a 1-yard scoring run for Bowling Green, which capitalized on a pair of fumbles for two first-half field goals before fading. Bowling Green, a Missouri nemesis from the Mid-American Conference, is 3-2 against the Tigers.
“I think Missouri stepped it up a little bit, and they made some adjustments,” Sheehan said. “I think we played good enough to win. It just didn’t happen.”
Gabbert, who threw for 319 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start against Illinois, finished 20 for 33 for 172 yards after totaling 44 passing yards in the first half. His lost fumble on a sack led to a 37-yard field goal by Jerry Phillips that put Bowling Green ahead 10-0 late in the first quarter.
Some teammates said Gabbert appeared a bit frustrated, but Pinkel said his quarterback never lost composure.
“He was under control,” the coach said. “One of the greatest things a quarterback can do is learn to forget.”
Missouri began its comeback with an 18-yard run by Washington on third-and-10, and Gabbert’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Perry on consecutive plays cut the gap to 20-13 near the end of the third quarter. Perry said the ball went right through a defender’s arms.
Washington gained 6 yards on 4th-and-2 from the Bowling Green 39 one play before Gabbert and Kemp connected for a 33-yard score for Missouri’s first lead.
Washington topped 20 carries for the first time in his career, and his yardage was the third-best. The running game had a major role in the Tigers’ rally.
“They really ran the ball well,” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. “And we didn’t tackle as well as we did in the first half.”
The first half was notable for what Missouri was unable to do. The Tigers were scoreless in the first quarter for the first time at home since a 31-14 loss to Kansas on Nov. 20, 2004, and went without a touchdown in the first half at home for the first time since a 26-10 loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 28, 2006.
Sheehan threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Ray Hutson for the game’s first score. Bowling Green outgained Missouri 162-116 in the first half but could have put the Tigers in a deeper hole with touchdowns off the two turnovers at the Missouri 18 and 21.
“With a loss it’s always a collective effort, as much as a win is a collective effort,” Sheehan said.