Each fourth-quarter run by Alabama’s Derrick Henry was like a little shovelful of dirt on Missouri’s grave Saturday during the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome.
The Tigers only trailed by eight points entering the final quarter, but the Crimson Tide tacked on three unanswered touchdowns and salted away a convincing 42-13 victory, which almost certainly secures a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Missouri, 10-3, had only allowed Alabama, 12-1, 108 yards in 35 carries until the fourth quarter when Henry — a 6-foot-3, 241-pound sophomore battering ram of a running back — buried MU with 88 yards, including touchdown runs of 26 yards and 1 yard, in only six carries.
“It felt great to come back (to the conference championship game),” Tigers sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk said. “It’s what we’ve been working for all year, but … we’re disappointed. We came here to win the game and not get beat like this.”
With a sterling third quarter, Missouri pulled within 21-13, but that was as close as the Tigers could get.
Senior quarterback Blake Sims’ 6-yard touchdown pass to Christion Jones on the first play of the fourth quarter blunted the Tigers’ momentum.
Henry, who ended up with 141 yards and two touchdowns in 20 carries, finished off a dejected Mizzou, which dropped to 0-4 in conference championship games — all under coach Gary Pinkel.
“I wouldn’t say they wore us down,” MU sophomore linebacker Michael Scherer said of the fourth quarter. “They had a lot of momentum and time was winding down. You’re playing in a championship game and, as the clock ticks away, it kind of eats at you I guess you could say.”
The Tigers got roughed up in back-to-back Big 12 championship games by Oklahoma, 62-21 in 2007 and 38-17 in 2008, and lost last year’s SEC title game to Auburn 59-42.
The crowd of 73,526, which was heavily in Alabama’s favor, cranked up in celebration during the fourth quarter.
“I’m really disappointed how we played,” Pinkel said. “We played a great football team. You play a great football team, you’ve got to play well. They’re going to make plays, and you’ve got to make plays.”
At times, the Tigers matched the Tide in the playmaking department. It just didn’t happen enough.
Missouri, which played most of the final three quarters without junior defensive end Shane Ray after his targeting ejection, trailed 21-3 at halftime, but Mauk — who finished 16 of 34 for 272 yards with a touchdown — found a some big-play chemistry with senior wide receiver Jimmie Hunt in the third quarter.
Mauk escaped a collapsing pocket, an alarmingly common sight, on the sixth play of the second half and heaved a 63-yard bomb to Hunt, setting up the Tigers’ only touchdown — a 1-yard quick slant to senior wide receiver Bud Sasser.
After an Alabama punt, Missouri tacked on a field goal, junior Andrew Baggett’s second 33-yarder of the game, and drew within 21-13 at the 4:37 mark of the third quarter.
Hunt made three catches for 120 yards, including a 47-yard grab to set up the field goal. He finished with career highs of six receptions and 169 receiving yards.
The first half was a roller-coaster ride.
Alabama looked indomitable, marching 68 yards in 10 plays before junior T.J. Yeldon plowed into the end zone on a 1-yard run. But Missouri’s defense settled in from there, at least until Ray’s ejection.
Eventually, the Tide doubled its lead when Sims lobbed a 58-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver DeAndrew White, who had a team-high 101 yards in four catches.
“We were rolling over coverage and, honestly, I didn’t even see him,” MU junior free safety Ian Simon said. “He was running a corner-post. He was breaking off to the corner and we were rolling over our coverage. My eyes were on the quarterback and I just took a bad angle, so I’ll take the blame for that. I should have been over the top for that.”
Perhaps even more important, Ray, the SEC’s leader in sacks and tackles for loss, was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit as Sims stepped into the throw.
“Up top, I think our coaches said that he had the crown of the head,” Pinkel said. “That’s what I was told. Our coaches upstairs saw it, and they agreed with it.”
Missouri, whose six-game winning streak was snapped, countered with a field-goal drive. Alabama led 21-3 at halftime after Yeldon added a 2-yard touchdown.