No. 18 Mizzou loses battle in trenches and stunner to Indiana
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball has been a staple of Missouri’s rise to prominence in the SEC.
The Tigers’ dominance up front figured to continue against an Indiana team known for its quick-strike offense, not a relentless pass rush. No one could mistake the Hoosiers’ offensive line — average weight: 295 — for some of the formidable units awaiting Missouri in the SEC.
A haunting hush in the crowd at Faurot Field late Saturday afternoon told the story of how Indiana changed that narrative in a stunning 31-27 upset over the No. 18 Tigers. Quarterback Maty Mauk spent much of the day running for his life, and Indiana’s offensive backfield generally remained surprisingly free of Mizzou defenders.
"They out-executed us in certain aspects, but for the most part we just weren’t playing Mizzou football," left tackle Mitch Morse said. "We knew what we were going to do. We had faced every scenario in practice and just didn’t come up and win our one-on-one battles."
Frequent bad snaps from center Evan Boehm and mental errors compounded the problems, including the Tigers’ first five false-start penalties of the season. Even worse, senior left guard Anthony Gatti went down with a torn ACL on a play late in the first quarter, when Russell Hansbrough gained 42 yards on an option pitch.
A 45-yard touchdown pass to Jimmie Hunt and Hansbrough’s 68-yard touchdown run tied the game at 14, and Missouri would take its first lead on a 27-yard Andrew Baggett field goal late in the second quarter. But big plays, especially on the ground, were few and far between for an offense that often looked unstoppable in its first three games.
Pinkel took the blame for some poor time management late to let 20 seconds run off the clock before Indiana scored its game-winning touchdown with 22 seconds left. Then the Tigers got one last chance with no time left thanks to a roughing-the-passer penalty, but Marcus Murphy never had a chance to go anywhere after he caught the ball more than 30 yards short.
Indiana mostly shut down the Tigers’ run game with 11 tackles for loss, one away from doubling its combined total in games against Indiana State and Bowling Green. That number would have been a lot higher if not for the rather remarkable scrambling ability of Mauk, who finished with 32 rushing yards and got sacked only twice.
"They did a great job of putting pressure on us and obviously, we want to do a little better," said Mauk, who also threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns despite some early drops by Mizzou receivers. "It’s stuff we’ve got to fix and I know these guys are going to accept that challenge and come out ready to go on Tuesday."
Nate Sudfeld had a lot more time to find the Hoosiers’ receivers, probably the biggest reason for the end of Missouri’s NCAA-best 47 straight games with a turnover on defense. Freshman defensive end Charles Harris got a timely sack — the first of his career — in the fourth quarter, but Indiana’s fast-paced ground attack clearly found the weak spot of the Tigers’ defense on Harris’ side for 241 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Any team would be hurt by the loss of a co-captain and preseason second-team All-SEC defensive end, so it surely came as a painful shock when Markus Golden came out in street clothes to watch pregame warmups. Pinkel said Golden injured his hamstring in practice Wednesday, but wasn’t officially ruled out until Saturday morning.
"He’s our leader," said linebacker Michael Scherer, who had a career-high 13 tackles. "He’s one of the best defensive ends in the country. I think that says enough, not to say that the kids that stepped in there didn’t do a great job, because they did."
Pinkel and defensive end Shane Ray emphasized the need for Harris and Marcus Loud to step into the role without making excuses, but Saturday’s performance calls into question the depth constantly touted by Missouri’s coaches. Talent and athleticism are still no substitute for experience at the Division I level, as the two freshman defensive linemen learned Saturday.
Even without much of a pass rush, though, the Tigers still stopped Indiana on 13 of 14 third-down attempts. The lone conversion came after Indiana had failed to convert a third-and-9, but the Hoosiers got a second chance thanks to an illegal substitution penalty.
An obvious pass-interference call kept Indiana’s hopes alive on a fourth-down play during the final drive, and the Hoosiers responded with a 44-yard screen pass on the next play. A facemask at the end of that catch-and-run set up the game-winning touchdown, when D’Angelo Roberts leaped over the line of scrimmage and into the end zone.
Missouri clearly has plenty of talented playmakers with the likes of Hansbrough, Mauk and top receiver Bud Sasser, who went over 100 yards receiving for the second straight week and often helped bail out Mauk on big plays. But as the Tigers head into SEC play next week against South Carolina, they know none of that will really matter if things up front don’t significantly improve.
"My message was really just ‘This is adversity,"’ Ray said. "Today, we lost a game and a lot of guys had their heads down, which is the way that you should feel. But going on, we need to pick it up. We need to figure out what we did wrong and everybody needs to do something extra."
You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter @FS_LukeT or email him at email@example.com.