Missouri needed a spark offensively after totaling only 108 yards and three points in the first half of Saturday’s 41-13 SEC championship game loss to Alabama at the Georgia Dome.
Senior wide receiver Jimmie Hunt was happy to provide it, snagging three passes for 120 yards in the third quarter as the Tigers rallied within 21-13.
At halftime, Hunt said he told sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk, “The defender can’t hold. I’m going to run past him. You just make sure you put the ball up in the right place, and I’m going to go make it happen.”
Mauk had been forced to scramble by protections breakdowns throughout the first half, a trend that continued in the third quarter.
Except now Missouri punished Alabama with completions of 63 and 47 yards in scramble situations, setting up all 10 of MU’s second-half points.
“Jimmie was just that guy that really made himself open,” Mauk said. “He was working with me — not only with me, but deep. You usually don’t have people guarding you 50 yards downfield, but Jimmie just did a great job finding that open area.”
Hunt finished with 169 yards — a career-best by 63 yards and the third-highest total in a SEC championship game — on six catches, which ties his career high.
Only Auburn’s Darvin Adams, who had 217 yards in 2010, and Florida’s Anthony Reidel, who had 171 yards in 1996, have posted more receiving yards in the conference title game.
Alabama’s Cooper also stars
Junior Amari Cooper already owned every Alabama receiving record in a single season or a career, but he padded his NFL-ready resume with an SEC title game-record 12 catches for 83 yards.
Cooper also broke the SEC’s single-season record for receptions with 115, moving past Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, who had 113 in 2013.
Still, despite Cooper’s record-setting day, Missouri was pleased with how it handled the Tide’s big-play weapon, limiting to less than seven yards per reception.
“That was definitely the game plan,” junior free safety Ian Simon said. “The biggest thing going into it with all the film we watched was seeing countless times of him getting behind defenses. We figured if we could limit him to shorter catches, keep him in front of us and tackle him as soon as we could, we’d have a better shot. We did a good job of that.”
Missouri senior defensive end Lucas Vincent was at his best against Alabama, recording a career-high seven tackles.
He also was credited with a half-sack on two occasions and finished with a career-best two tackles for a loss, including a fourth-down stop of Tide junior running back T.J. Yeldon.
Junior linebacker Kentrell Brothers finished with a career-high 14 tackles, including eight solo tackles.