posted on November 11, 2012 12:40
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Missouri flipped the script on its season in is 51-48 four-overtime win against Tennessee on Saturday.
It wasn't just that the Tigers finally answered adversity with a stunning, improbable, out-of-nowhere comeback. It wasn't just that James Franklin re-found his arm and his mojo in making clutch, precision passes in win-or-lose situations near the end of regulation and into halftime. It wasn't just that Missouri's defense played like a sieve in the first half before finishing up like steel.
No, the biggest change-of-pace in Missouri's season-long narrative was a role-reversal between the offense and the defense.
All season, Missouri's defense has done the heavy lifting while the offense sputtered along. In losses to Vanderbilt and Florida, Sheldon Richardson and company dragged Missouri's offense to the finish line, pushing and guiding it like a parent with a toddler who just ditched the training wheels on their bike. Yet those cames ended the same way -- Missouri's offense, the metaphorical toddler, lying in a heap in a curb, knees skinned and heads bruised.
It was almost the same on Saturday, at least in the second half. Missouri's defense regrouped after a nearly disastrous first half in which Tyler Bray and Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter and Mychal Rivera (!?!?) moved up and down the field for 383 yards of offense. Meanwhile, Missouri's offense was its usual unimpressive self. Even in the second half, when the Tigers moved the ball better, it still looked like the Florida game, only against a worse opponent.
But then something clicked with Franklin, and a sandlot-type play with Dorial Green-Beckham tied the game, forcing overtime. From there, Franklin went 5-for-6 with three touchdowns in overtime, the only miscue coming on a drop in the endzone by Green-Beckham.
(No matter, Franklin went back to the freshman on the next play for a touchdown.)
The offense was back. But at that time, the defense couldn't answer its teammates' call. Franklin and his receivers did the heavy lifting, while the defense was pulled along. Bray threw two touchdowns in the first three overtime periods, and a fake field goal by Tennessee left Missouri's defense dumbfounded.
Would that be Missouri's death sentence in Knoxville? A out-of-nowhere offense brought down because of a defensive regression?
In the end, that wasn't the twist ending in Missouri's Saturday script. The defense regrouped and saved the offense by batting down Bray's two-point conversion (that would have won the game) in triple overtime, and in the next period, little-used freshamn safety Ian Simon made a diving break-up of Bray's fourth-down attempt to set Missouri up for the game-winning field goal.
It was unlikely and improbable and stunning, a fantastic finish that breathed life into a lifeless season. A game like that oozes confidence into a team, no matter what happened before the comeback. Now, the offense is the beneficiary of that turnaround, and can head to the final two games with some swagger.
That still doesn't mean anyone knows how or why the turnaround happened.
"I don't know," Sheldon Richardson said. "Something clicked. And I hope it keeps clicking."