With each game, Missouri has proved something to itself. The first two blowout triumphs showed the Tigers were beyond scares against overmatched opponents.
Saturday’s 40-37 victory over Purdue, decided on the game’s final play, should give Mizzou confidence that it can bring effort that’s less than ideal, especially on the defensive end, and still leave the field in celebration.
The reflex is to assert a similar performance will get the Tigers pounded by their SEC opponents, starting with this week’s monumental task against Georgia. Especially after Purdue quarterback David Blough undressed Mizzou for Boilermakers-record 572 passing yards on Saturday.
That’s right: Blough set a passing-yards record at the school that produced Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Drew Brees and several other NFL quarterbacks. Georgia and the remaining opponents on the Tigers’ schedule will undoubtedly look to exploit what can only be described as Mizzou’s softest spot.
But another spin is worthy of inspection. Missouri, which twice lost double-digit leads Saturday, gutted out a triumph against a desperate Big Ten team that entered the season with high expectations but lugged a winless record into the game.
Also, this was the same Boilermakers program that embarrassed Missouri in Columbia last season. Muscle memory favored Purdue.
But resolve carried the Tigers. The game was on the line with 3:28 remaining. The Boilers had just tied it with a field goal, a consolation prize after a go-ahead touchdown had been overturned.
Buoyed by the call, Missouri embarked on its game-winning drive, and there were few at Ross-Ade Stadium who didn’t believe the Tigers were going to advance the ball. Tucker McCann’s game-winner from 25 yards flew between the uprights with 0:00 showing on the clock, the program’s first walk-off field goal in regulation since Missouri defeated Kansas in Arrowhead Stadium in 2009.
There was relief, naturally, from Missouri, which trailed in the game for only about five minutes, but also a sense of determination that no matter how things unfolded, the plane ride home would be a happy one.
“Obviously, it wasn’t pretty,” MU coach Barry Odom said. “But we found a way to win a game, on the road, when things didn’t always go our way.”
There were plenty of those moments.
Sure-handed Emmanuel Hall dropped what likely would have been a touchdown pass on the Tigers’ first possession. And he missed most of the second half with an injury.
The Tigers had a field goal blocked, swinging the game’s momentum. The call to kick was curious after Missouri had been successful on other fourth-down gambles from longer distances. Purdue quickly marched for a second straight touchdown and what once was a Missouri walkover was now a slim, three-point halftime lead.
But the oddest moment occurred in the fourth quarter. Blough completed a 74-yard pass that missed its intended target because Missouri safety Cam Hilton was making a hit. The ball bounced off Hilton’s helmet and into the arms of Purdue tight end Byrcen Hopkins. Purdue was soon in the end zone.
If that moment didn’t crush Missouri spirits, the next one did. The Tigers’ ensuing drive ended with Drew Lock’s first interception of the season.
But Mizzou caught a break when officials signaled a touchdown on a Purdue reception in the end zone. The Boilers would have taken the lead with 3½ minutes remaining, but the call was overturned by replay.
Offensively, Mizzou hummed, aside from Lock’s pick and some stalling in the red zone that resulted in four McCann field goals. Lock passed for 375 yards and three touchdowns. The MU ground game racked up 233 yards, including 168 from hard-running Larry Roundtree. And that’s four straight games in which the Tigers have scored at least 40 points.
Will that kind of production be good enough to beat a row of SEC opponents that includes the Bulldogs, South Carolina and Alabama over the next month? On the offensive side, Missouri should be able to keep up. Alarms sound for the defense, though, and Mizzou players on that side of the ball understand what lies ahead.
“We did some good things, and we did bad things,” linebacker Cale Garrett said. “It’s always easier to watch film when you come out with a win.”