A week ago, the Missouri Tigers took apart a UCF team that — even with the departures of Blake Bortles, Storm Johnson, and others — is supposed to be a top-three contender at worst in the American Athletic Conference. Head coach Gary Pinkel’s team didn’t waste much time or energy in the process. Missouri found a noticeable rhythm as the game wore on. A team coming off an SEC East championship season was going to be a target for everyone on its 2014 schedule. Mizzou handled that bulls-eye against a credentialed UCF program with poise and tunnel-vision focus.
With Georgia’s defense stumbling, Florida’s offense bumbling, and South Carolina already tumbling to Texas A&M, Missouri became an attractive choice as the SEC East champion, sneaking up on the field much like last year. Missouri’s talent was evident. Authoritatively dispatching UCF isn’t done easily. What was even more impressive than the Tigers’ talent was that they looked the part of a mature team ready to defend what it had gained in 2013.
What a difference a week makes.
Missouri plays South Carolina on Sept. 27. The Tigers weren’t kicking back and watching ballgames last Saturday afternoon. Indiana was playing Bowling Green at the same time Mizzou handled UCF. Yet, Missouri’s players couldn’t avoid noticing, as the schedule moved along to week four, that their next opponent surrendered 45 points to Bowling Green, just the latest in a long series of sieve-like demonstrations from Indiana football. The Hoosiers didn’t plug holes or close the gaps in their defense. Bowling Green was thrashed a few weeks ago by Western Kentucky and was eviscerated by a not-yet-excellent Wisconsin team earlier today. Indiana’s ability to beat Bowling Green was discouraging enough; what had to worry the Hoosiers even more was that a Mid-American Conference offense went through their defense like a knife through warm butter.
If this was a setup for an Indiana ambush on the road in Columbia, Mo., it was quite hard to see the pieces falling into place.
There was really only one way the Hoosiers were going to win this game: Missouri would have to look ahead to South Carolina.
Presto, change-o, upset day, yo.
When teams play confidently, when they’re locked in, you can generally tell. The biggest revealer of a vigilant team: speed. It plays fast and with clarity. Movements are swift and responsive, vigorous yet within the flow of action, in concert with the purpose of a play. Energy is easy to have, but teams are on-point when energy serves a goal and is properly channeled. Missouri had this against UCF. Against Indiana, the Tigers were slow. They were not imposing. The Hoosiers were the ones who flew to the ball and played with more force than the previous week. Indiana progressed, while Missouri unmistakably regressed.
The difference between these two teams was never more apparent than in the final few minutes of play. Even as Missouri took a late lead, the Tigers failed to land a big blow, keeping them in a position where one big mistake could cost them.
They made that mistake, and Indiana cashed it in.
With the score tied at 24 and 3:44 on the clock, Missouri’s offense steamed downfield and had a first and 10 at the Indiana 20. History — and Missouri’s recent upswing in the college football world — both pointed to a Tiger touchdown. Yet, Missouri managed just three yards on the next two snaps, followed by a false start and a low-percentage throw to the pylon on third and 12. Missouri might have taken a 27-24 lead on a subsequent field goal, but the Tigers made themselves vulnerable to an Indiana touchdown.
With the Hoosiers facing fourth and six from their own 29 with a little over a minute left, Missouri was just about at the finish line. Yet, one more lapse in concentration, a clear defensive pass interference penalty on Kenya Dennis (the flag was thrown as late as the one at the end of the 2003 Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State and Miami, but it was the proper call), bailed out the Hoosiers and gave them yet one more opportunity to pull off the huge upset.
Indiana didn’t miss.
A 44-yard pass play (including a half-the-distance penalty) from IU quarterback Nate Sudfeld to Tevin Coleman put the ball just inside the Missouri 8. After Pinkel inexplicably lost track of time and allowed Indiana to burn 25 seconds (0:50 to 0:25) off the clock, the Hoosiers punched the ball in with 22 ticks left and scored the unfathomable ambush.
If you hadn’t seen a “look-ahead” loss in the 2014 season, you’ve seen one now.
Abruptly, Missouri has to question where it stands in the greater scheme of things, while Indiana can once again dare to dream of a potential bowl bid, the bowl bid it thought it had chucked out the window last week against Bowling Green.
What a difference a week makes. It is the eternal story of college football. Just ask the head coaches below: