Twenty-third ranked Missouri’s venture to Memphis — a city known for its barbeque — ended with a dud of an extremely disappointing New Year’s Eve loss to Oklahoma State.
The defense got grilled by fifth-year senior and former walk-on quarterback Taylor Cornelius for a Liberty Bowl-record four touchdown passes in leading the Cowboys to a nail-biting 38-33 win. The result was sealed in the final minute when freshman safety Kolby Peel stopped Tigers QB Drew Lock inches shy of the first down on a fourth-down keeper inside the Oklahoma State ten-yard line.
Cornelius completed 26 of 44 attempts for 336 yards in torching Mizzou’s beleaguered secondary that failed to get numerous third-down stops to halt Cowboy scoring drives. So much for SEC supremacy!
Oklahoma State came into the contest ranked 99th in the nation in total defense and tied for 96th in scoring defense. The Tigers entered the game with Lock — a projected first-round pick in the NFL draft — figuring to compile an impressive stat line slinging the ball around Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium while their contingent of available running backs provided a healthy yards-per-carry average.
Lock played well, completing 23 of 38 passes for 373 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in spite of the highly questionable play-call that ended his collegiate career. Larry Rountree III led the Missouri rushing attack racking up 204 yards on 27 carries and should have been the recipient of run-pass-option (RPO) that would have allowed Lock as well as his teammates to pull off a huge comeback victory in his last game. Receiver Johnathon Johnson filled in admirably as Lock’s go-to in the absence of injured burner Emanuel Hall, piling up a bowl record 185 yards on 9 catches with a TD.
A potential shootout? Yes. An anticipated loss? No.
But, it was the complementary play of Cowboy running back Chuba Hubbard and wide receiver Tyron Johnson, along with the opportunistic exploits of the defense that kept the Tigers at bay. Hubbard ran for 145 yards and a touchdown while Johnson caught seven passes for 141 yards and two scores primarily going against second-team All-SEC corner Demarkus Acy who had his worst game of the season, maybe his life, incurring repeated blown coverages and interference penalties.
Never mind that Oklahoma State was without leading rusher Justice Hill and offensive guard Larry Williams who sat out the game to prepare for the NFL Draft. Never mind that the Cowboys were without cornerbacks Rodarius Williams and Kemah Siverand – both ejected for targeting penalties – or safety Malcom Rodriguez, who left the game in the second quarter after sustaining an injury, forcing OK State to insert inexperienced backups into a defense that was already suspect.
Missouri imploded, playing a porous Big 12 opponent like the cuddly little Tiger emblem that adorned their helmets.
The Tigers went MIA on:
- defense, a unit that had made great strides culminating in an impressive 38-0 shutout of Arkansas in the last regular season game
- special teams (1 missed PAT and blocked 42-yard field goal attempt critical to staging a comeback)
- play calling (you’ll have to ask offensive coordinator Derek Dooley why Missouri abandoned the pass or game-deciding RPO)
- and game management
All of that led to a very bitter defeat to end 2018 8-5 instead of a more promising 9-4 record that would have coincided with the program finishing in the Top-25 in someone’s poll. It would have signified that Mizzou was an SEC-Football foe on the rise, a foe to be reckoned with and ready for take-off under head coach Barry Odom and staff with the arrival of Clemson graduate transfer Kelly Bryant as Lock’s successor under center.
So, I guess it’s the oft-stated “Wait until next year.” Missouri has no choice, and it will be a LONG wait filled with what-ifs and would’ve, could’ve, should’ves to a more promising 2019 considering the way 2018 ended with such a bitter outcome.