Missouri maintained control of its own destiny Saturday by rallying past Texas A&M for a 34-27 victory at Kyle Field.
Tigers coach Gary Pinkel apparently is like kryptonite for the Aggies, who dominated the series with MU 6-0 before his arrival.
Missouri is 7-2 against A&M since 2002, including a 4-2 record in College Station. Tigers have won five of the last six in the series since 2007, including a 4-1 record during the last five season with three wins in four trips to Kyle Field.
Here are a few observations for Pinkel’s latest bit of Aggie mastery:
1. Laying it on the line
Missouri was an imposing rushing offense last season. Maybe it wasn’t quite to national runner-up Auburn’s level, but MU could brutalize opposing defenses.
That hadn’t been the case before a 335-yard outburst, including 199 yards on 20 carries by junior Russell Hansbrough, against A&M.
It’s true that the Aggies’ run defense has been terrible, but it’s also true that only Auburn has hammered coach Kevin Sumlin’s crew harder on the ground than the Tigers did.
“When you have that many yards rushing, it all starts with the offensive line,” Pinkel said.
Deservedly, lots of love was showered on Missouri’s offense line — from left to right, Mitch Morse, Brad McNulty, Evan Boehm, Connor McGovern and Taylor Chappell — after the win.
“You’ve got to give a big shout out to our O-line, because, if it wasn’t for them, none of this would be possible,” senior wide receiver Darius White said. “They really dug deep and pulled this game out for us.”
If Missouri can continue that punishing style up front, a return to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game seems likely to be in the offing.
“We spent a lot of time this week on finishing,” MU Gary Pinkel said. “We felt the last couple weeks, if we just finish blocks a second or two more, we’ve got guys who can shoot out there and turn a 6-yard gain into a 25-yard gain.”
He wasn’t wrong.
2. Golden performance
Senior defensive end Markus Golden had gone a bit silent.
Golden and junior DE Shane Ray were playing at an unfair level for opposing offenses during the season’s first three weeks.
Then, came Golden’s hamstring injury, which kept him out of the debacle against Indiana and, while he returned for the start of SEC play, seemed to hold him back for a few weeks after that.
There was no stopping Golden on Saturday even going against senior tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who is projected to be one of the top tackles in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Golden finished with nine tackles, including two sacks, added another quarterback hurry and also forced a fumble.
“Shane is getting a lot of attention, because he should,” Pinkel said. “He’s a great player, but we’re very fortunate to have a great player like Markus Golden on the other side. Boy, he really stood out today. He was everywhere.”
Ray had two tackles, but both were for a loss and he added another sack to his MU single-season record (13).
3. Nail in the coffin
Wide receiver Jimmie Hunt had run a few fades against A&M nickel Devonta Burns, so Missouri had the defense set up perfectly for a slant during the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
Facing second-and-11 from its own 1, needing a first down to ice the victory, the Tigers turned to precisely that play for a critical 10-yard hook-up.
A&M was playing a deep safety with Hunt lined up in the left slot.
“My guy was head up to shade outside of me, so I really knew if I got on him coming off the line hard and gave him a little head fake, I could get the black route that we needed,” Hunt said. “Maty recognized it just like I recognized it. When that safety dropped back and (Burns) stepped outside of me just a little bit, I knew he was coming to me.”
Senior Marcus Murphy picked up MU’s 32nd first down on the next play and A&M never got the ball back for another crack at the game-tying touchdown.
The Tigers went 13 of 21 on third-conversions and controlled the clock for 37:30, outgaining the Aggies by 246 yards.
Missouri ran 89 plays and averaged 6.6 yards.