Monday, November 15, 2010

Tigers get back on track against Wildcats

On the heels of back-to-back losses at Nebraska and Texas Tech, Missouri needed a turnaround game. They needed confidence. They needed to avoid the all-out meltdown a third straight loss would have unleashed.

In last Saturday’s Senior Day game, the Tigers (8-2, 4-2 in Big 12 games) achieved all of the above with a 38-28 win over Kansas State. Missouri controlled the game throughout most of the second half, leading by as many as 24 points before a pair of late Wildcat touchdowns narrowed the final margin.

The offense was more balance than it was in the two losses. Missouri had 208 passing yards and 232 rushing yards. Blaine Gabbert responded to a midweek pep talk from Gary Pinkel, who reminded the quarterback of how well he played against Oklahoma. It was surely helpful encouragement after Gabbert completed just 42 percent of his passes in the two losses, and the big quarterback responded by completing 17 of 25 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns.

Gabbert also ran for 89 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown run that was capped off by a crushing block from receiver Wes Kemp to clear the path to the end zone. Kemp was one of six different Tigers to catch a pass in the game, which was played in cold, overcast, windy conditions.

The defense got some huge turnovers in key situations. Whether they were Kansas State blunders, such as the fumbled snap at the Missouri one-yard line just before half, or forced by great Missouri plays, such as the Aldon Smith sack that caused a fumble that was returned for a Tiger touchdown, the takeaways kept the Wildcat rushing attack from rolling up too many yards. They battled to the end, but Kansas State is not a team built to come from behind.

Missouri’s pass rush overwhelmed the Wildcat comeback attempt. Brad Madison picked up another sack and leads the conference in sacks.

The win capped an undefeated home season for Missouri, their second in four years. This senior class, despite last year’s 3-3 mark at Faurot, finished with an impressive 20-4 record at home.

The win also kept alive the chance for a 10-win regular season and a prestigious bowl berth. No. 15 Missouri closes the season with games at Iowa State on Saturday and against Kansas in Kansas City on Nov. 27. Missouri will be a heavy favorite in both.

This week’s game in Ames (6 p.m. on FSN) could be a bit tricky. Iowa State (5-6, 3-4 in Big 12) needs this win in their last game to get to 6-6 and be eligible for a bowl game, which is a big deal for the Cyclones and coach Paul Rhoads, who is trying to build the program.

On the Cyclones' senior day, in what could be a very cold game, with so much to play for, Missouri will surely get Iowa State's best shot. But if the Tigers can play at the level they did against Kansas State, they should beat the Cyclones.

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