Gabbert, No. 20 Tigers rebound in big way

AP

When last seen running off Faurot Field, the Missouri Tigers were basking in the glow of a historic 36-27 victory over the then-BCS  No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners.

It was the culmination of what Missouri football had been up to that point in the 2010 season — an opportunistic and, at times, stingy defense and a potent offense depending on what night you caught the Tigers.

Then there was the Missouri team that played the last two Saturdays. It was a team that couldn’t help but give up long runs to the likes of Texas Tech’s Baron Batch and Nebraksa’s Roy Helu, who ran for 128 and 307 yards, respectively.

Not surprisingly, the Tigers dropped both of those games — 31-17 at Nebraska and 24-17 at Texas Tech — and that all but eliminated them from the discussions of BCS and national championship bowl berths just as quickly as they had entered said conversations.

The Missouri team that took the field against the Kansas State Wildcats on Saturday morning in the final home game of 2010 veered more toward what fans saw on that fateful Saturday night three weeks ago. And it showed in a 38-28 victory over the Wildcats in Big 12 play.

No one bore more criticism for the Tigers (8-2, 4-2 Big 12) faltering than junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert, whether it was outside pressure or self-inflicted. So head coach Gary Pinkel took it upon himself to remind Gabbert of his efforts against Oklahoma not so long ago.

“We talked about it early this week and I reminded him that on the biggest stage, in the biggest stage in college football you can have, Game Day and the whole deal, you executed at the highest level,” Pinkel said.  “You are good and don’t ever doubt it.”

“You had a bad game. Just think about what you can do to make it better, but don’t doubt how good you are.”

The pep talk seemed to do the trick and Gabbert came out in the first quarter throwing the ball as accurately as he has in three weeks. On the Tigers' second possession of the first quarter, Gabbert took the offense 63 yards in seven plays, resulting in a 25-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver T.J. Moe, his first of two scores on the day. But Gabbert, who was 17-of-25 for 208 yards passing, didn’t just get it done through the air.

After the Wildcats (6-3, 4-4 Big 12) got a 1-yard touchdown run from senior running back Daniel Thomas to tie the game 7-7, Gabbert made use of the large running lanes that Kansas State's pass coverage left open.

The result was a scramble that turned into a 32-yard touchdown run that was aided by a ferocious block from Tiger receiver Wes Kemp that allowed Gabbert to get into the end zone. The effort from Kemp took two Kansas State defenders out of the picture, drawing praise from his quarterback.

“Wes’ block was huge,” Gabbert said. “I could see it out of the corner of my eye and I also heard it.”

The Tigers racked up 232 yards on the ground to go with 208 through the air, bringing some balance back to a team that sorely missed it in the losses to Nebraska and Texas Tech.

“I think we executed better,” Pinkel said. “Throwing, catching, running, blocking and those things,” Pinkel said.  “It certainly wasn’t perfect but we did a lot of good things, we had some balance and we moved the ball pretty good.”

Defensively, the Tigers gave up 422 yards to Kansas State but it was plays on that side of the ball, particularly in the third quarter, that put Missouri over the top. On a second-and-13 from the the Tigers' 42, Wildcats senior quarterback Carson Coffman dropped back and was subsequently sacked and dropped the ball thanks to Missouri’s sophomore defensive end Aldon Smith. Fellow lineman Jacquies Smith picked the ball up and ran it back 53 yards for a touchdown.

The Wildcats next offensive play was an attempted fumblerooski that didn’t go as planned. Senior cornerback Carl Gettis pounced on the ball, setting up the Tigers on the Kansas State 45 and leading to a 33-yard field goal from junior kicker Grant Ressel to make it 31-14.

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