Missouri wide receiver Bud Sasser (21) celebrates his fourth quarter touchdown on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2014 at Faurot Field in Columbia, Missouri. Sasser finished the game with 74 yards receiving and two touchdowns in Missouri’s 24-14 win over Vanderbilt.
Story by Brandon Kiley, KBIA Sports
Photos by Christian Clark, KBIA Sports
The Missouri Tigers (6-2) had the ball on the Vanderbilt (2-6) 26-yard line, clinging to a 17-14 lead with just over 2 minutes remaining. Maty Mauk was struggling to complete passes for the fourth straight week.
Conventional wisdom said the Tigers should run the football and drain what remained on the clock, but Mauk and the Missouri offense had other plans. The redshirt sophomore quarterback looked to his right, saw Marcus Murphy, and gave his running back a pre-play prediction.
“Touchdown,” Mauk said.
One word was all that was spoken between Mauk and Murphy. It was all that needed to be said. Murphy understood, and moments later, so would the 60, 524 fans in attendance for Homecoming at Faurot Field.
Set up in the shotgun, Mauk called for the snap and set the play in motion. Mauk dropped back. He sailed a high, fluttering ball off of his back foot in the direction of senior wide receiver Bud Sasser, who was streaking toward the near corner of the end zone.
Miraculously, the ball found its way into Sasser’s outstretched hands as the senior receiver dragged his foot just inside of the end zone boundary. With just over two minutes to play, Missouri took a commanding 24-14 lead over the Commodores that would hold up as the final result.
“I knew we were going to score,” Pinkel joked after the game. “I knew we were going to throw a completion… I knew it.”
Mauk’s game-clinching pass to Sasser was set up by strong inside running from Missouri running backs Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough. The Tigers’ two feature backs combined to rush for 182 yards on 35 carries in the win. Missouri’s coaching staff said they made a concerted effort to stick with the run game. The Tigers ran the ball on 16 of 20 plays at one point midway through the third quarter.
“Me and coach (Josh) Henson were talking on the way to the hotel yesterday,” Mauk said. “We wanted to establish our run game… And that’s going to open up our passing game because now (teams) will put guys in the box, which will give (Missouri’s receivers) the ability to get open.”
Despite the picturesque finish, it wasn’t a pretty win for the Tigers. There are plenty of questions that remain about the Missouri passing attack. Mauk was only able to muster 141 yards through the air, failing to eclipse the 150-yard threshold for the fourth straight week. The sophomore quarterback has completed just 42 percent of his passes for 258 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions in his past three games.
“He made a really nice throw to Jimmie Hunt in the second quarter,” Pinkel said, referring to Mauk’s 35-yard pass to Hunt late in the first quarter. “That was the first good thing he’s had in a while.”
Penalties continued to be a nagging issue for Missouri as well. Missouri’s defense was stout for much of the day, but penalties were the catalyst behind both of Vanderbilt’s scoring drives. Missouri committed 14 penalties for 100 yards, the most by Pinkel’s team since 2007, when the Tigers drew 14 flags in a 36-28 win against Kansas.
“Its just discipline,” Missouri linebacker Michael Scherer said. “When they scored, it was because we made penalties on the drive and that’s what kept the drive going. We need to cut those little mistakes out and play with more discipline.”
Coach Pinklel said he and the coaching staff will continue to put an emphasis on discipline this week at practice as the Tigers prepare to take on the Kentucky Wildcats (5-3) next Saturday at Faurot Field.