During the third quarter Saturday, South Dakota State decided to pick on Missouri cornerback Aarion Penton.
On back-to-back plays during a 10-play march that opened the second half, Jackrabbits sophomore quarterback Zach Lujan, who stepped in when senior starter Austin Sumner was hurt in the first quarter, connected with Jason Schneider.
Those 27- and 10-yard completions against Penton moved South Dakota State from midfield into the red zone and set up a touchdown and two-point conversion that trimmed the Tigers’ lead to 21-18.
Frustration started to set in for Penton.
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“I really did feel like they were picking on me,” said Penton, a sophomore. “I don’t blame them, though. They did a good job putting me to sleep with the run game, so they got a couple big plays on me. But a real good corner snaps back into it and takes advantage of them going to their side.”
Senior Marcus Murphy followed with a 102-yard kickoff return, but that also meant Missouri’s defense went right back on the field — and Lujan kept going after Penton.
Jake Wieneke caught passes of 45 and 8 yards to start South Dakota State’s next drive, but, when Lujan tried to zip a touchdown past Penton, his good fortune (and the game) turned permanently.
Penton stepped inside the receiver and picked off his first pass of the season in the end zone.
“That was huge for him and for our defense,” sophomore linebacker Michael Scherer said. “I was really proud of him, because he kept his head in there. They were throwing his way, throwing his way, throwing his way.
“I don’t know if it’s because the guy didn’t throw very hard and the receivers were able to adjust to it, but they kept completing passes. For him to keep his mind in and keep his head in it and be able to make that play, and kind of turn things around a little bit, it helped a lot.”
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said his confidence in Penton is unwavering.
“He’s a very talented guy, and he’s capable of being a great player,” Pinkel said. “There were certainly some fundamental things that he could have done better, like everybody. Just technique, but he’ll learn from all those. … They had a couple balls that were almost perfectly thrown. But still, if you talk to Cornell Ford, our secondary coach, if he used the right technique, you’ve got a chance to get your hand on them.”