By the Associated Press
Missouri safety Ian Simon knew he had made a mistake.
For three consecutive plays in overtime, he either failed to line up correctly or properly cover a Tennessee receiver. Defensive coordinator Dave Steckel said he “verbally assaulted” Simon after the redshirt freshman returned to the sideline.
“I knew I’d messed up on the previous plays and I was letting the moment get to me a little bit,” Simon said. “He came to the sideline, he chewed me out a little bit, but it also calmed me back down at the same time and brought me back to earth a little bit.”
Steckel tried apologizing after the exchange but Simon wouldn’t let him and said he needed it. The safety returned to the field and broke up quarterback Tyler Bray’s fourth-down pass attempt in the fourth overtime, preventing the Volunteers from scoring and giving Missouri the opportunity to win the game with a field goal.
Redshirt freshman kicker Andrew Baggett converted from 35 yards and the Tigers won their first Southeastern Conference road game, 51-48, thanks in no small part to several young and inexperienced players.
“There’s nothing like experience,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “And you’ve got to get out there and you’re going to make mistakes. That’s how you grow.”
Sophomore receiver Bud Sasser, who entered the game with only 10 career receptions, caught two passes for 61 yards, including a leaping grab over a defender for 40 yards that set up a Kendial Lawrence’s 1-yard touchdown run three plays later.
Starting his fourth career game, Sasser said he had never been in a situation that rivaled Saturday’s four overtimes. He and junior receiver Marcus Lucas were walking along the sideline telling different groups of players to just enjoy the moment and have fun.
“This is what we come to school for, this is what we play the game for,” Sasser said. “And we want to play in big games, and here it is.”
Winning at Tennessee moved Missouri (5-5, 2-5 SEC) to within one win of extending its bowl streak to eight seasons. With a visit to No. 9 Texas A&M to finish the season, the Tigers want to secure their trip to the postseason this week at home against Syracuse (5-5, 4-2 Big East).
“Oh, it’s on our mind,” Sasser said.
Against the Orange, junior quarterback James Franklin will also likely be targeting sophomore Jimmie Hunt and freshman Dorial Green-Beckham, who combined for four touchdowns against the Volunteers.
Hunt scored the team’s fifth touchdown on special teams this season on an 87-yard kickoff return and caught his seventh career pass for a 24-yard score in the first overtime.
Green-Beckham, who arrived in the summer as one of the school’s highest-ever touted recruits, only caught seven passes in the team’s first seven games. Since then, his 14 receptions lead the Tigers. Two of those – both for touchdowns – came last Saturday.
The first occurred on Missouri’s final play in regulation, a fourth-down, 25-yard catch in the end zone. The ball was headed slightly out of bounds, but Green-Beckham utilized his 6-6, 220-pound frame to keep both feet in play.
“He’s a lot different football player right now than he was five weeks ago,” Pinkel said. “Because he’s working so hard at fundamentals and his work ethic, so on and so forth. That’s a glimpse of what he can be.”
Franklin says his young receivers are starting to lead by example, so it shouldn’t be considered all that surprising he targeted Green-Beckham for a 10-yard, over-the-shoulder touchdown pass in the third overtime after the receiver dropped an identical pass the previous play.
If anyone on Missouri could spot resiliency, it would be Franklin, who completed only 2 of 8 passes for 18 yards and an interception in the first half but finished 19-for-32 for 226 yards and four touchdowns.
“Here’s the bottom line,” receivers coach Andy Hill said. “If you go do it in practice, and it’s consistent that you catch balls and run the right routes and the ball comes to you and you make the play, then the quarterback’s looking for you on Saturdays.”