Defense Does The Heavy Lifting For Tigers

Defense Does The Heavy Lifting For Tigers

The Missouri Tiger defense not once, but twice lifted the team on it's shoulders late in the game, and led the Tigers to victory helping out first time QB starter,Corbin Berkstresser, and the Missouri offense hold on for a 24-20 win over Arizona State.

On Saturday night, the Missouri Tigers (2-1, 0-1) defeated the Arizona State Sun Devils (2-1) by the final score of 24-20 in non-conference action.  

The Tigers jumped out to a 17-0 lead with 4:51 remaining in the 2nd quarter, and led 24-7 with 4:08 remaining in the 3rd quarter.   Led by an outstanding performance by sophomore QB Taylor Kelly, Arizona State staged a comeback that had them knocking on the door in the fourth quarter.  But, the Missouri defense stiffened with successive late fourth-quarter goal line stands, the second of which was highlighted by a Kenronte Walker interception of a Kelly pass in the end zone to seal the victory

"I'm really proud of our football team,"  said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel, following his team's 24-20 win over Arizona State.   "Obviously, a first-time starter at quarterback.   That might be the youngest group of players I've ever put out there as a head coach, up front and at quarterback……………………………………….. What the defense did, they just kind of raised their level of play, and obviously made some remarkable plays." 

With starting QB James Franklin on the sideline due to a painful right elbow, red-shirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser got his first start for the Tigers.  After T.J. Moe took The Opening kickoff out to the Missouri 42-yard line, Berkstresser drove Missouri 29 yards on 9 plays, and Andrew Baggett booted a 46-yard field goal to put the Tigers ahead 3-0. 

Two possessions later, Missouri punted to the dangerous Jamal Miles.   A hard tackle by Andrew Wilson knocked the ball loose, and Kip Edwards recovered on the ASU 18-yard line.    Four rushing plays netted a touchdown, with Berkstresser taking it in from 6 yards out.

Three plays later, Edwards picked off a Kelly pass that gave Missouri the ball at the ASU 41-yard line.  But, the drive stalled, and Baggett missed a 45-yard FGA.

The two teams traded punts until midway through the 2nd quarter when Marcus Murphy returned a punt 24 yards to set the Tigers up at the ASU 33-yard line.  But, Berkstresser was intercepted by Brandon Magee at the ASU 3-yard line.

The Missouri defense was impenetrable, and Murphy and E.J. Gaines combined for a reverse on the ensuing punt return that netted 48 yards and set Missouri up on the ASU 18-yard line.  Five plays later, Kendial Lawrence took it in from 7 yards out to stake Mizzou to a 17-0 advantage.

It was then that the Sun Devils began to get things going by countering the Missouri pass rush with a series of screen passes that allowed Kelly to drive his team down for a late 2nd-quarter TD.  RB D.J. Foster took a short pass out in the flat and the talented freshman took it in from 33 yards out.

Midway through the 3rd quarter, after a botched ASU punt that netted 11 yards, the Tigers took over on the ASU 33-yard line.  Six plays later, Lawrence once again finished it off, this time taking it in from the 1-yard line, and the Tigers had a 24-7 advantage with 4:08 remaining in the 3rd quarter.

From there, Missouri held on, as Kelly ignited a pair of touchdown drives, and twice had the Sun Devils within striking distance late in the fourth quarter.

With Missouri leading 24-20, Kelly and the Sun Devils drove down to a first and goal at the Missouri 8-yard line, and quickly got the ball to the 1-yard line, as Kelly once again eluded Missouri's pass rush and got the ball to Foster along the right sideline.  But, Kony Ealy and the Missouri safeties, Braylon Webb and Walker, kept the Sun Devils out of the end zone, with Walker making a pass break up in the end zone on fourth down.

Less than two minutes later a 25-yard punt return by Miles set Kelly and the Sun Devils up at the Missouri 21-yard line.  Three plays later, Walker stepped in front of Kelly's pass in the end zone and ran it out to midfield where he was run out of bounds right in front of the Missouri bench.

"You've got to give their quarterback (credit),"  explained Coach Pinkel, speaking of ASU's Taylor Kelly.  "He made two plays on the sideline.  They were freak plays, but he made them."

Kelly made a lot of plays, often eluding the Missouri pass rush when it seemed he would be thrown for a loss, and turning those negative plays into big plays for the Sun Devils.  He was pressured on virtually every pass play, and spent most of the game running away from the pass rush, but he was elusive, and he managed to extend plays long enough to get the ball to one of his guys.

In the end for Missouri, it had been a team effort, with the Missouri defense doing the heaviest lifting.  Missouri had gotten just enough from their offense and special teams, with the defense making sure that it was enough.   At times it wasn't pretty, as once again the Tigers made too many mistakes.  But this time, the end result was a win.   Coach Pinkel was pleased to get the hard-fought victory, after which he talked about correcting his team's mistakes. 

"I'm disappointed in (squandering) the three scoring opportunities that we had,"    said Coach Pinkel.   "We had some kicking game problems.  We had snap problems all day.  They had a punt return at the very end.  There were just a lot of things that made us not look very good.  And, I'm real disappointed in that.  Trust me.  So, we're going to work hard to get that fixed."

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