By ALEX SCHIFFER
College Contributor Network
While the scoreboard showed a 38-18 victory for No. 24 Missouri over South Dakota State on Saturday afternoon, the numbers didn't tell of the struggles the Tigers faced in earning their first win of the season.
"I think South Dakota State played really well," Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel said after the game. "I think they did some really good things, and was impressed with how they battled. Offensively we had trouble converting on third downs. On defense we had trouble getting off the field. A combination of both, that's not very good."
The Tigers got rolling early, going down the field in just 50 seconds to start the game and scored on just their third play from scrimmage when sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk connected with senior Darius White for a 44-yard touchdown.
The Jackrabbits countered quickly, answering just a few moments later when star running back Zach Zenner ran for a 75-yard touchdown to even the score at seven. Mauk would hit White again a few minutes later for their second touchdown of the game to give the Tigers the lead back, and a rushing touchdown by junior Russell Hansbrough gave the Tigers a 21-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. Hansbrough led the Tigers run game Saturday with 20 rushes for 126 yards.
"He looked good," Mauk said of his running back. "That was the first time I've seen him healthy since he's been here really so it's good to see him back."
From there, the Tigers went into a bit of cruise control. They failed to score in the second quarter and had a number of drives that were three-and-out's. The Tigers defense was able to hold the Jackrabbits to only a field goal for the remainder of the first half, which helped mask the offense's struggles. Senior defensive end Markus Golden had a career day, registering 10 tackles and one and a half sacks to help fill the void left by former All-American Michael Sam and current Carolina Panther Kony Ealy.
The Jackrabbits made things interesting in the second half, driving down the field early and picking up first down after first down. The Jackrabbits were playing without starting quarterback Austin Sumner, who left the game towards the end of the first quarter with a leg injury. The visitors were able to close in on the Tigers lead through a rushing touchdown from Zenner out of the wildcat formation. A two-point conversion cut the Tigers lead to 21-18 with Missouri getting the ball.
The Tigers' offense never got to respond to the Jackrabbits' rally. Senior Marcus Murphy returned the Jackrabbits' kick 100 yards to give the Tigers a 28-18 lead. The Tigers never looked back from there.
"That (touchdown) return was really something we needed," Pinkel said. "We had the ball for five minutes in the third quarter. We got the ball with four minutes left, and we had a three and out. The defense will be on the field plus the kickoff return going right back on the field again, it was just an unusual quarter how that thing carried out."
The Tigers added ten points of insurance in the fourth quarter off of a 29-yard touchdown catch by senior receiver Bud Sasser and a 44-yard field goal by junior kicker Andrew Baggett.
The Tigers head to Toledo next week which should make for an interesting setting, as Pinkel will return to face the program he coached before heading to Missouri.
"They're a really good football team," Pinkel said. "In personnel, they're a really good team. They have a history of big wins in that stadium, upset wins. I know, I've been a part of them, too."
Kickoff is slated for 11 a.m. CT.
Alex Schiffer is a sophomore journalism student at the University of Missouri and hails from Westfield, New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter: @TheSchiffMan
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