Sunday, October 30, 2011

Missouri defense sparks rally, Baylor up next

One of the great thrills of college football is that one dramatic play can turn around a drive, a game, a season. Last Saturday, the Missouri defense made such a play, which could have great implications for the team going forward.

Missouri was a double-digit underdog at then-No. 16 Texas A&M, trailing 28-17 early in the fourth quarter. Venerable Kyle Field was rocking, and the Aggies were driving into Missouri territory, looking to put the game away. Missouri was 3-4, and another loss would have seriously jeopardized the Tigers’ bowl chances, given their remaining schedule.

But then, the play. Missouri defensive end Brad Madison roared around the edge and hit Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s arm as he tried to throw. This caused the ball to sail off target, and Missouri’s Randy Ponder intercepted it, returning it all the way to the A&M 30 yard line.

With new life, Missouri took just three running plays to score a touchdown. The defense forced a three-and-out from A&M, and then Missouri drove 79 yards in six plays to take the lead.

The Aggies would force overtime, but Missouri scored a touchdown and then stopped A&M to pick up the 38-31 win, the Tigers’ first road win over a ranked team since 1997, over Oklahoma State.

Blowing big leads has kind of been Texas A&M’s thing this year. In each of their three losses, the Gaggies have coughed up double-digit leads in the second half.

Now 4-4 (2-3 in Big 12), the Tigers are surely feeling some relief and also the new life that comes with winning a game that sure looked like it would be a loss.

Missouri needs to split its four remaining games (at Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas in Kansas City) for bowl eligibility and take three of four for a winning regular season.

The Baylor game (6 p.m., Fox Sports Network) should be a wild and wacky Saturday night in Waco. Some early lines have it as a toss-up, pick ’em type game.

Baylor has an explosive offense led by quarterback Robert Griffin III and receiver Kendall Wright. However, the Bears defense has been pretty bad (giving up 44 points per game in Big 12 play, better only than the abominable Kansas defense). Baylor finds itself 4-3 (1-3 in Big 12) after an encouraging 3-0 start.

Last week, No. 3 Oklahoma State rolled to a 49-3 lead over the Bears before showing some mercy en route to a 59-24 win. It had to be demoralizing for Baylor, given the Bears’ rising aspirations.

It’s tough to pick a winner in a coin-flip game like this. It is Baylor’s Homecoming, which may give the Bears a boost. Griffin presents a special challenge with his track-star speed and improved passing ability. Tight games often come down to turnovers, and Baylor is last in the Big 12 in turnover margin. If that trend continues, Missouri should pick up a second straight road win. But if and when Baylor’s offense gets going, anything can happen in Waco.

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