Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — They’d have preferred to hear the news two days earlier, but the Missouri Tigers can take some solace in knowing two big plays should have gone their way in their 9-6 loss Saturday at Georgia.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Monday he was told in an officiating report a kick-catch interference penalty should have been called when Cam Hilton muffed a third-quarter punt and a fourth-quarter pass interference call against Aarion Penton shouldn’t have been made.
“They’re real critical plays,” Pinkel said. “But what I tell my football team is, you’ve got to overcome them, and we didn’t do that.”
Each play indirectly led to one of Georgia’s three field goals, the Bulldogs’ only points in the game.
Hilton’s fumble was followed by a 10-play, 36-yard drive that ended with a 24-yard field goal from Marshall Morgan.
The 15-yard penalty against Penton put Georgia at the Missouri 24, and Morgan hit a 34-yarder four plays later to secure Georgia’s first lead with 1:44 to play.
Hilton’s fumble came on his only punt return of the game. He made a fair catch on three of Collin Barber’s first four punts, with the other one being downed.
On the play in question, Hilton was hit by Malcom Mitchell just milliseconds after catching the ball, and Malkom Parrish recovered the ball on Missouri’s 43.
Missouri was running a punt-block play, meaning there weren’t many blockers back to protect Hilton.
“Generally, unless it’s a real poor kick, you’re probably going to have to fair-catch that,” Pinkel said. “So that’s just little things freshmen do.”
Hilton said he wasn’t expecting a flag at the time.
“At first I was kind of like, ‘Oh, what am I doing?’” he said. “But then when I looked at it on film, I was like, ‘Oh, that was pretty clear (it was a penalty).’”
Hilton said it was “kind of relieving” to hear the wrong call was made.
“I was more frustrated with myself, but it kind of takes some off me,” he said.
With Missouri’s offense failing to move the ball — the Tigers didn’t score a touchdown for the second straight game — Hilton said his approach to punt returning was a bit more aggressive than it might have been otherwise.
“I always want to be a playmaker,” he said, “so that was definitely going through my head.”
Penton’s penalty came on a first-down pass attempt to Mitchell. Greyson Lambert’s throw sailed out of bounds, but Missouri’s junior cornerback was flagged for defensive pass interference nonetheless.
“I just think the ball was uncatchable,” Penton said.
The penalty essentially put Georgia in field-goal range, and after gaining 7 more yards, Morgan made what turned out to be the game-winning kick. Penton, meanwhile, was kicking himself.
“I’m supposed to feel that way,” he said, “because (of the) moment that call was made on that particular drive.”
Penton said he tried not to let the penalty affect the way he played the rest of the game.
“You have to be yourself out there, and that’s why you’re here,” he said. “But other than that, if you just stay mentally prepared and focused you’ll be fine.”
At that point, however, it didn’t matter much how Penton played. Georgia didn’t need to attempt another pass.
Notes: Junior quarterback Maty Mauk remains absent from the Missouri depth chart, with the newest one released Monday. True freshman Drew Lock will start his fourth consecutive game Saturday at Vanderbilt. The Tigers are 1-2 without Mauk, who was suspended indefinitely Sept. 29 for a violation of team policy. … Tight end Sean Culkin was listed as the first-string tight end. Culkin, who injured his knee Sept. 26 at Kentucky, was listed as questionable last week but played at Georgia, catching two balls for 16 yards. … True freshman Emanuel Hall is listed as a co-starter with J’Mon Moore at X receiver. Missouri has already started true freshmen at quarterback (Lock), receiver (Cam Hilton), defensive tackle (Terry Beckner Jr.), punter (Corey Fatony) and punt returner (Hilton) this season.