It’s not a gamble Missouri coach Gary Pinkel normally would take.
He admitted as much when asked about the decision to go for it on fourth and three at the Toledo 37 early in the fourth quarter.
As the third quarter drew to a close, the Tigers had staunched the bleeding against a tough Mid-American Conference foe, Toledo, where Pinkel coached prior to his 2001 arrival in Columbia.
But the game remained very much in doubt.
Ultimately, Pinkel decided to keep the ball in the hands of his best player, a prudent decision that paved the way to victory.
“We went for it on fourth and three at a place where I usually don’t do it,” Pinkel said. “We ended up scoring on the drive and probably momentum-wise sealed the game at that point.”
Nearly 13 minutes were left in the game, and the Tigers’ lead stood at 31-23 when Eric Waters juggled a pass from Franklin as he tumbled over the sideline.
It had been 92 degrees at kickoff with the temperature spiking to 96 during the game, and Pinkel’s defense was gassed after spending most of the third quarter on the field.
Of course, Pinkel’s offensive line was just as taxed by the heat.
Initially, he sent the punt team out — pin the Rockets deep and maybe the defense can get a stop and win the game for you — rather than risk giving Toledo the ball back near midfield.
Then, there was a second thought.
With Franklin playing more like “Frank the Tank,” a sophomore sensation rather than the banged-up quarterback from last season’s 5-7 campaign, Missouri’s strength has been on offense during the first two games.
Pinkel called a timeout. Officials reviewed the play, which ultimately was upheld despite the fact it appeared Waters might have gotten a foot inbounds by a couple blades of synthetic turf.
The review gave him time to consult offensive coordinator Josh Henson and defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, which is when Pinkel had a change of heart and opted to give Franklin a chance on fourth and three.
Keeping the ball on a speed option off right tackle, Franklin gained six yards.
It wasn’t the gutsiest call in the history of football, but when Marcus Murphy dashed into the end zone six plays later — and after Franklin had converted on third and nine with an 11-yard run — it looked pretty smart.
“It worked, so it was a good call,” Pinkel said. “… And that’s true, in my business, when you make those kind of calls, they’re good calls if they work.”
Chalk one up for Pinkel, who reiterated a few times during the postgame press conference how much he likes the 2013 Tigers.
“We’ve got to keep getting better and keep improving,” Pinkel said. “That’s the most important thing, if you can stay healthy and get better. That’s the rallying cry that I have to do with our football team, because I think we have the makings of a good team, but we have got to get better.”