Missouri’s comeback at South Carolina tied the program record for the largest fourth-quarter comeback.
Only once before in Tigers football history, which dates back to 1890 and includes 1,233 games, have the team rallied from down 13 in the fourth quarter for a win like they did Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
There’s some symmetry to the record-tying effort as well.
Missouri trailed No. 16 Nebraska 20-7 in the fourth quarter on Oct. 29, 1949, but scored two unanswered touchdowns for a 21-20 victory.
Nearly 65 years later, the Tigers trailed the No. 13 Gamecocks 20-7 midway through the fourth quarter before a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs by Russell Hansbrough nudged coach Gary Pinkel’s squad in front with 1 minutes, 36 seconds remaining.
“I haven’t been part of a win like this ever,” said Hansbrough, who scored three touchdowns and finished with 10 carries for 43 yards. “This is a pretty amazing win for our whole team.”
The largest deficit Missouri has ever overcome to win was 21 points against South Carolina in the 2005 Independence Bowl.
The Tigers trailed 21-0 in the first quarter and 28-7 in the second quarter, but had rallied to tie the game behind Brad Smith by late in the third quarter and never trailed in the fourth quarter of that game.
Missouri rallied from a 21-7 fourth-quarter hole on Nov. 11, 1944, at Oklahoma, but settled for a 21-21 tie that day.
That is the largest fourth-quarter deficit the Tigers have erased to avoid a loss.
Only nine times in Missouri history has the team rallied from a double-digit, fourth-quarter deficit and successfully staved off defeat (7-0-2).
The Tigers’ victory at South Carolina, which propelled Pinkel’s crew back into The Associated Press Top 25, was the first fourth-quarter comeback from down at least 10 points since rallying past Texas Tech 31-27 on Nov. 19, 2011. The Red Raiders led 27-17 entering the fourth quarter.
Five of Missouri’s double-digit, fourth-quarter rallies for victory have come under Pinkel’s watch.
Largest fourth-quarter comebacks in Missouri history, in wins
at (13) South Carolina
Oct. 29, 1949
Oct. 29, 2011
W, 38-31 (OT)
Nov. 19, 2011
at Texas Tech
Oct. 15, 2005
W, 27-24 (OT)
Oct. 11, 2003
Oct. 12, 1974
at (12) Nebraska
Largest fourth-quarter comebacks in Missouri history, in ties
Nov. 11, 1944
Oct. 22, 1966
Here are a few observations from the Tigers’ stunner:
1. Victory doesn’t obscure offensive woes
Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk started the game five of eight for 48 yards then hit a remarkably terrible stretch — four of 21 for 14 yards — before the 41-yard bomb to senior wide receiver Bud Sasser and 26-yard deep post to junior wide receiver Wesley Leftwich on back-to-back plays.
Mauk’s only other completion was a critical fourth-and-1 run/pass option dump off to sophomore tight end Sean Culkin for a 3-yard gain.
South Carolina was flagged for pass interference on the next play then senior running back Marcus Murphy scampered for 22 yards to the Gamecocks’ 2-yard line, setting up the game-winning touchdown.
Mauk finished the game 12 of 34 for 132 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions, ending a streak of six consecutive starts with multiple touchdown passes.
It was the first time in nine career starts Mauk failed to throw for a touchdown.
South Carolina’s secondary was supposed to be ripe for the picking.
The Gamecocks’ secondary had allowed the most passing plays of 15 yards or more entering play and still rank 126th out of 128 teams with 37 such plays allowed this season.
Meanwhile, the run game was effective when it counted, but still only averaged 4.1 yards per carry.
Missouri’s 280 yards and 4.0 yards per play were the worst of the season. It was the fewest yards for the Tigers since a win against Kentucky in 2012 and the fewest yards per play since a loss at Florida that same season.
“The whole day offensively was real frustrating, but we came back and made some plays and won the game,” Pinkel said.
Still, the offense did just enough to win, sparked by Sasser’s long reception.
“We just needed a big play and they counted on me to make it,” said Sasser, who leads Missouri with 29 catches for 443 yards.
Mauk didn’t tell him he was coming his way in the huddle, but Sasser said, “I was really hoping he was coming my way.”
When Sasser got behind his defender, Mauk took a chance and it paid off.
“We came out and said we’ve got to finish,” Mauk said. “We flipped a switch and everything just turned on. Bud made a great play on the one (throw) and then Wesley did a great job of recognizing the coverage and breaking that off.”
2. Defense saves day
Of course, the heroics in the final 7 minutes and chance by the offense wouldn’t have mattered if the Tigers’ defense hadn’t rebounded in spectacular fashion.
South Carolina’s struggles on offense were overshadowed by Missouri’s, but Steve Spurrier’s squad only managed 338 yards, including 219 through the air.
On 79 plays, the Gamecocks averaged 4.3 yards.
Each of those stats — total yards, passing yards and per-play average — were season-lows for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks have only had three other games with offensive production that meager across the board during the last three seasons.
“It feels great,” said junior defensive end Shane Ray, who finished with career highs for tackles (eight) and sacks (two). “Last week, we took a big blow losing to Indiana. We just wanted to bounce back as a unit. … It was as simple as gap integrity, getting back to our fundamentals and tackling.”
3. Baggett’s redemption
It was only an extra point.
But it was so much more than that for Missouri junior kicker Andrew Baggett, too.
Baggett took his share of heat last season when he clanged a 24-yard field goal off the left upright in double overtime, handing South Carolina a victory at Memorial Stadium.
“You think about it, but it was like, ‘Oh, no,’” Baggett said. “It was more like, ‘I’m going to make it this year.’”
He said he didn’t notice anything unusual about the Gamecocks faithful’s “block that kick” chant when he trotted onto the field with the score knotted at 20-20 after Hansbrough’s third touchdown with 1:36 remaining.
It was loud, though.
During ESPN’s College GameDay, South Carolina fans held of signs taunting Baggett and surely he heard a few choice comments throughout the game.
But Baggett didn’t buckle. He bombed the game-winning point through the uprights.
Yes, he’s supposed to do that. It is, after all, only an extra point.
Still, with Baggett’s history and in that setting, it felt like more. It felt fated and fitting and, deep in his heart, he knows it was something special.
“That whole series took forever —- timeout, timeout, timeout, review, review,” Baggett said. “I’m thinking, ‘Geez, c’mon.’”
In the end, Baggett, a Lee’s Summit North graduate, came through in the clutch and knocked a heavy gorilla off his back.
BONUS: Pinkel explained the multiple timeouts before the final play, saying Missouri just wanted to get the right call for the situation.
He vetoed a couple suggestions, which prompted the first timeout.
When the Tigers took the field, South Carolina called a play and adjusted its defense.
Missouri then called another timeout before settling on the most basic of calls.
“We just wanted to make sure, whatever play we called, it was the right play at the right time,” Pinkel said.
Blast right, dive right — whatever name you want to give it, it’s one of the first plays a peewee football teams learns. It’s all about leverage and execution, heart and will.
The Tigers got low, gave Hansbrough a crease and pulled victory from almost certain defeat.
In doing so, Missouri also took control of the SEC East race only one game into the conference schedule. A victory against Georgia on Oct. 11 at Memorial Stadium might put the Tigers on the express back to Atlanta for another SEC Championship Game.
SEC East division standings