Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — An exciting start to the regular season quickly became a familiar display of the inconsistency shown all preseason by the Missouri football team.
But, a win is a win is a win.
“Every win is a great win if you can win,” coach Gary Pinkel said.
Marcus Murphy led the Tigers with 204 all-purpose yards, Maty Mauk threw three touchdowns in his debut as Missouri’s full-time quarterback, and No. 24 Missouri held off FCS No. 10 South Dakota State 38-18 in front of a steadily dwindling Faurot Field crowd Saturday.
The fireworks started quickly for the Tigers. After two runs by junior tailback Russell Hansbrough, Mauk hit senior receiver Darius White in stride for a 44-yard touchdown pass. It was the longest catch of White’s career.
South Dakota State didn’t even need three tries. Zach Zenner ran for a 75-yard touchdown on the Jackrabbits’ first play from scrimmage.
After answering with a punt, the Tigers bounced back with another long Mauk-to-White connection, this one for 39 yards and White’s second touchdown of the afternoon. Four plays later, Hansbrough turned a Duron Singleton interception into a 10-yard touchdown run in which Hansbrough evaded two Jackrabbit tacklers, turned 180 degrees and used Mauk as a blocker before looping around the defense and into the front corner of the endzone.
“Sometimes great athletes make plays just because they’re great athletes, and that’s what he did,” Pinkel said. “He made a great play.”
But it was the last great play the Missouri offense would see for a while. After putting up 21 points on 217 yards in the first quarter, the Missouri offense failed to score again until the fourth quarter. The Tigers only managed 39 yards in the second quarter and didn’t do much better in the third — 41 yards — when they only ran seven plays from scrimmage.
“That’s really on us, man,” said White, whose only catches were the two long touchdowns. “We’ve really got to keep our foot on the pedal. … That’s one thing we talked about the sideline. That’s one thing we’re going to work on in practice. Once we’ve got them down, we need to keep them down.”
The Missouri offensive struggles resulted in four punts and two missed field goals. Andrew Baggett missed from 34 and 55 yards, but hit from 44.
Luckily for Missouri, the Tigers found another way to score. After a 10-play, 75-yard Jackrabbit drive ate up 41/2 minutes and cut the score to 21-18, Murphy responded with a 100-yard kickoff return.
“The momentum kind of died down, and I just wanted to come out and get the offense up,” Murphy said. “Get the whole team up, really. … It opened up right up right down the middle, and so I just took it to the house.”
White said Murphy had called his shot before the return. Murphy, who said he wasn’t touched on the return, had lost the kick returner spot to Ian Simon. It sounds like he might have gottten it back.
“I look forward to the future,” he said. “We’re going to do it every week.”
Mauk regained his footing in the fourth quarter when he hit senior co-captain Bud Sasser for a 29 yard touchdown. Mauk looked like he was going to scramble outside on the play, but a pass-rusher forced him back into the pocket. He then hit Sasser, who had sufficient time to position himself around a defender who had no idea the ball was coming.
“You’ve got to get the momentum back, and they did get the momentum,” a sunburned Mauk said after the game. “So, we did a good job of staying calm, executing on plays and we got the momentum back. There was the stuff in between, but we’ll fix that.”
The play was a bit of an anomoly, however. Mauk spent much of the game outside of the pocket and was 13-of-21 through the air, reminiscent of his inconsistency in the Tigers’ preseason scrimmages.
“He made a lot of big plays downfield,” Pinkel said of his sophomore quarterback, “but he also was running around a lot too.”
One of the biggest lapses came at the end of the first half when Mauk was getting dragged to the ground. He tried to throw the ball away but was so twisted his throw, technically a fumble, went seven yards backwards and out of bounds.
Mauk finished with 178 passing yards and no interceptions. Hansbrough led the way on the ground with 20 carries for 135 yards, a personal best.
Markus Golden led the Tigers on defense with 10 tackles and two sacks.
Missouri’s three turnovers — Singleton’s interception, a Braylon Webb fumble recovery and an Aarion Penton interception — extended the Tigers’ streak of 45 games with a takeaway, best in the nation.
They arrived in crucial moments, especially the fumble, which came after a 22-yard reception that put the Jackrabbits at Missouri’s 11.
South Dakota State starting quarterback Austin Sumner left the game in the first quarter when he caught his foot in the turf. Pinkel said Jackrabbit coach John Stiegelmeier told him Sumner was out six to eight weeks. Sumner’s replacement, Zach Lujan, went 21-of-28 for 239 yards.
After his 75-yard touchdown run, Zenner finished the day with 109 yards. Zenner needs 109 more to claim the school’s all-time rushing record.
Missouri is back in action next week at Toledo, which defeated New Hampshire 54-20 on Saturday.