After six weeks of doldrums, Missouri’s offense broke out in an unprecedented way Saturday at Texas A&M.
The Tigers torched the Aggies for 587 total yards, the most coach Gary Pinkel’s team has mustered against a conference opponent since joining the Southeastern Conference.
Missouri’s previous high-water mark was the 534 yards it racked up during a loss to Auburn in last season’s SEC Championship Game.
It was, in fact, the most yards the Tigers had managed in a conference game since a 55-10 win Nov. 3, 2007, at Colorado, when the Chase Daniel-led offense rolled up 598 total yards.
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The last time No. 19 Missouri, 8-2 overall and 5-1 in the SEC, topped 587 yards in any game was 623 during a 45-28 win last season at Indiana.
“It’s definitely a great feeling,” Tigers senior left tackle and captain Mitch Morse said. “It really is. We put so much hard work and dedication into our practice and preparation that we felt like something needed to click. Especially in the third quarter, it kind of came together.”
Missouri totaled 308 yards in the third quarter alone — more than it managed for the entire game against South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Understandably, the Tigers’ offensive line was heaped with praise after allowing no sacks and paving the way for 335 yards rushing and a 6.8-yard-per-carry average.
“It’s amazing,” Pinkel said. “When they play well, it allows everybody else to perform at a better level.”
Missouri shuffled its offensive line after the Sept. 20 loss against Indiana, partly because of Anthony Gatti’s season-ending knee injury and partly to shore up some inside protection issues.
The reconstituted offensive line — Morse, left guard Brad McNulty, junior center Evan Boehm, junior right guard Connor McGovern and junior right tackle Taylor Chappell — needed time to forge a cohesive unit.
That process finally might have reaching a tipping point, allowing MU’s offense as a whole to turn a corner.
“We’ve been jelling, especially these past couple of weeks, with everything,” McGovern said. “Rushing yards is a good way to tell. Rushing yards and sacks are a good way to tell how well an O-line is jelling and communicating.”
The Tigers didn’t allow a sack for the first time since the season-opener against FCS power South Dakota State.
Behind its new-look offensive line, Missouri hadn’t rushed for more than 148 yards before the last three games, when the Tigers ran for 244 against Vanderbilt, 156 against Kentucky and the monster 335-yard effort at A&M.
“I tell the guys, ‘Play with confidence,’ ” MU first-year offensive-line coach A.J. Ricker said. “You can’t go up there, ‘Man, I hope I block this.’ What’s that? Go up there with the mind-set and confidence you’re going to block your tail off for 6 seconds or as long as it takes. … You’ve got to go up there and say, ‘I’m the best right guard in the country. I don’t care what anybody says.’ And play with that confidence.”
Missouri also has done a better job sustaining and finishing blocks, which was a point of emphasis during the bye week.
“After a game like (A&M), you could see the confidence after the game with the guys,” Ricker said. “They know they weren’t perfect. Shoot, nobody is, but it’s good to see the finishing and stuff we really instill in practice is really paying off.”
The trick now is to keep that momentum going at Tennessee, which plays host to Missouri at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville.
“I’ve seen them gain a lot of confidence,” senior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent said of the line. “Even in practice, they’re a lot more confident with the plays they’re running and blocking us. They’ve got their swagger back and are ready to go.”