By Joe Vozzelli
NOTE: This story was updated at 11:30 p.m.
Dorial Green-Beckham knew exactly what to do.
On fourth down and 12 at the Tennessee 25-yard line, the clocked showed 56 seconds left in regulation with Tennessee leading 28-21. This drive was Missouri’s last chance to tie the game.
Before the crucial fourth down play, Green-Beckham lined up as the inside receiver on the left side of the Missouri formation and turned toward Missouri quarterback James Franklin to make sure his quarterback could see what he was doing. With his finger, Green-Beckham drew a zigzag route on his hand.
Franklin rolled to his left and found Green-Beckham wide open on the far left side of the end zone. Franklin unleashed a pass that Green-Beckham caught for a touchdown. An Andrew Baggett extra point tied the game at 28. The 25-yard reception was Green-Beckham’s first catch of the game. He wasn’t even targeted by Franklin the entire game until that play.
“It was pretty funny because he told me right before (the play),” Franklin said of what Green-Beckham did. “The defense probably could have saw what he was doing.”
Missouri went on to win 51-48 Saturday at Neyland Stadium after a four-overtime thriller that finished with a Baggett 35-yard field goal. The four- overtime contest was Missouri’s first in team history.
After the Tigers’ overtime victory Saturday, Missouri is 8-2 in overtime games under Pinkel.
Green-Beckham said there were other times he was open on a similar-type play earlier in the game.
“I was just letting him know the opportunities that we had on that side. I told him to look backside,” he said. “He looked and that play was open and it ended up as a touchdown.”
Green-Beckham also had a 10-yard touchdown reception during the third overtime and finished the game with two receptions for 35 yards.
The 6 foot 6 inch wide receiver has emerged as a weapon in the Missouri offense during the past two games following a rough month of October. After he was arrested for marijuana possession on Oct. 3, Pinkel suspended him for Missouri’s game against Vanderbilt on Oct. 6.
Green-Beckham had six receptions for 73 yards in Missouri’s game against Florida on Nov. 3 and snagged two touchdowns Saturday.
Pinkel said he isn’t surprised to see Green-Beckham, Rivals.com’s No. 1 high school prospect for last year’s class, break out in a game.
“That’s just a glimpse of him,” he said.
While Green-Beckham had two key touchdown receptions, Baggett created a scene similar to a walkoff home run in baseball. After his 35-yard field goal went through the uprights, Missouri players rushed out onto the field and started to mob their young kicker.
Baggett, a redshirt freshman, didn’t have a scholarship when he decided to come to Missouri in 2011. Baggett walked on and won the starting job at kicker after beating out incumbent Trey Barrow.
During one of Missouri’s media days a few weeks ago, Pinkel said it’s hard to tell how a young kicker will react to the college football environment.
“It’s very difficult to predict a player right out of high school, that he can come right in and be a kicker at this level in front of 75,000 people,” Pinkel said.
Baggett said he never had the chance to kick a game-winning field goal. He actually admitted to being more nervous on the point-after chances in overtime and the fourth quarter, though.
“Yeah, they are PATs. But, if you miss them, the game is over,” he said.
T.J. Moe, the holder for Baggett, had a simple message for Missouri’s kicker before his field goal attempt.
“He told me ‘split ‘em,’’” Baggett said.
Baggett’s season started off rough, though. He missed three of his first four field goal attempts. After Saturday’s game winning field goal, Baggett has made 11 of 16 field goals this season.
Franklin was badly in need of a good game after his four-interception performance against Florida last Saturday. He struggled in the first half against Tennessee, as well; He was 2-for-8 for 13 yards and one interception.
But, he led Missouri’s game-tying touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter, showing some of the signs of the dual-threat quarterback Missouri fans saw last season. Missouri started the drive on its own 24-yard line. Franklin had a 23-yard run and completed two fourth down passes to Green-Beckham and wide receiver Marcus Lucas.
Pinkel complemented his quarterback on how he bounced back in the second half.
“It was rough first half (for him) but when it was time to make plays, he delivered,” Pinkel said.
Franklin finished 19-for-32 with 226 yards and four touchdowns against the Volunteers.
After the Florida game, Lucas sat down with Franklin for dinner earlier in the week, Franklin said.
“He told me that his grandma always told him, ‘Whenever you’re going through hard times and you wonder where God is, just remember you’re being tested that the teacher is always Christ. And, when you’re having problems, you always go to the teacher for answers,’” Franklin said.
Franklin said that insight made him feel more comfortable about Saturday’s game.
Missouri’s second half comeback came after it had perhaps its worst half of football this season. In the first half, the Volunteers had 384 yards, compared to Missouri’s 64. The Tigers were lucky to be trailing by only 14 points at halftime.
The Tigers’ poor first half offensively was surprising given the same Tennessee defense surrendered 721 yards against a then 4-5 Troy team from the Sun Belt Conference on Nov. 3.
Missouri’s only points of the first half came on an 87-yard kickoff return from redshirt sophomore Jimmie Hunt. Hunt fielded the kick because Tennessee elected to have kicker Michael Palardy kick away from usual Missouri returner Marcus Murphy.
Hunt’s special teams touchdown gives Missouri five such touchdowns this season.
Franklin said the Tennessee defense didn’t play like Missouri expected in the first half. The Volunteers utilized different defensive formations than what Missouri saw on film, Franklin said.
Pinkel agreed, saying the Volunteers blitzed more than he expected them to.
Senior tailback Kendial Lawrence, who finished the game with a career-high 164 yards, said it was frustrating for the offense to not be able to move the ball in the first half.
Lawrence may have had a play that kick-started the Missouri comeback. On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, he took a handoff from Franklin and ran to the left side of Missouri offensive line before cutting up field for a 77-yard touchdown run.
Lawrence said he was emotional after the win.
“I was definitely chocked up a little bit,” he said. “I kind of just broke down and cried.”
Missouri (5-5, 2-5 SEC) keeps its bowl chances alive with the win. Missouri needs to win one more game to become bowl eligible for the eighth straight year, although the road may be tougher than originally expected.
Syracuse (5-5) is Missouri’s next opponent and is coming off a win against previously unbeaten and No. 9 Louisville on Saturday. Missouri will play the Orange at 6 p.m. Nov. 17 at Faurot Field on ESPNU.
Twice during his postgame press conference Pinkel said Missouri’s next game against Syracuse is “mammoth”, although he didn’t explain why.
Missouri will finish the season against No. 15 Texas A&M (8-2). The Aggies also knocked off an unbeaten team, No. 1 Alabama, on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Pinkel said he won’t worry about Missouri’s inconsistency as the team looks forward to its last two games of the season.
“When you win a game like this, you are elated. We’ll work on fixing the other things. We won’t be talking about that too much tonight,” he said.