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Missouri gashes BYU on third downs, earns hard-fought 20-16 victory

SHARE Missouri gashes BYU on third downs, earns hard-fought 20-16 victory
Third down was one of the downs that controlled the game. Missouri’s ability to make great calls on third down and put their players in great situations allowed them to hold on to the ball and continue to hold on to it at critical times also. – BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall

KANSAS CITY — During a tempestuous week at Missouri, there was a lot of speculation about what the Tigers’ levels of motivation and emotion might be like when they took the field against BYU.

Yes, Mizzou had motivation and emotion Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium. But in the end, it came down to conversion — as in third-down conversions.

Amid a mistake-filled night for both teams, Mizzou made the plays when it needed to against the Cougars, converting on 13 of 20 third-down attempts, and earned a 20-16 slugfest victory before a crowd of 42,824.

With the win, Missouri (5-5) snapped BYU’s five-game winning streak and ended its own four-game losing skid. The Cougars fell to 7-3.

The Tigers had dealt with unrest on campus and Friday's announcement of coach Gary Pinkel’s resignation for health reasons at the end of the season.

Mizzou has fielded one the worst offenses, statistically, in the nation this season, but the Cougars simply couldn’t stop the Tigers on third downs.

“Third down was one of the downs that controlled the game,” said coach Bronco Mendenhall. “Missouri’s ability to make great calls on third down and put their players in great situations allowed them to hold on to the ball and continue to hold on to it at critical times also.”

BYU converted on only 3 of 10 third-down conversions. “We weren’t very good on third downs and we were way too sporadic,” said offensive coordinator Robert Anae.

“Not being able to convert on those longer third downs throughout the game,” said quarterback Tanner Mangum, “we weren’t as productive as we could have been.”

Going into the game, Missouri ranked No. 125 in the nation (out of 128 teams) in third-down conversion percentage at 29 percent.

While third downs were a factor throughout the game, their significance was highlighted by two plays late in the fourth quarter.

BYU faced third-and-15 from its own 21-yard line with a little more than four minutes remaining. Mangum scrambled and threw a pass intended for Mitch Mathews that Mathews got his hands on, but the ball fell incomplete.

“He had a one-on-one matchup with a defender and I like those odds. He’s a playmaker," Mangum said. "Unfortunately, he couldn’t come up with it. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Sometimes you make big plays and sometimes you come up a little bit short. We came out on the shorter end of the stick tonight.”

After that play, Mendenhall opted to punt. “I thought there was way too much time left and I thought we’d make a stop,” Mendenhall explained.

On Missouri’s ensuing drive, it had a third-and-3 from its own 48-yard line with a couple of minutes left. Russell Hansbrough took a handoff and ran for 23 yards for a first down — essentially sealing the win.

The Tigers rolled up 434 yards of total offense — they had been averaging 282 per game — including 190 on the ground.

“They hadn’t had much success this year and they did tonight,” said BYU tight end Remington Peck. “We struggled against the run, and that’s been something we’ve tried to focus on.”

BYU’s offense finished with 290 yards as Mangum completed 23 of 41 passes for 244 yards.

“We’ve been slow and hesitant on offense,” said offensive coordinator Robert Anae. “We’re going to have to find a way to dig ourselves out of a slumping-type performance. It’s attributed to being hesitant and being soft.”

Missouri freshman quarterback Drew Lock was 19 of 28 for 244 yards and an interception.

Trailing 10-6 early in the fourth quarter, the Tigers ended up scoring their second touchdown in 42 days on a 4-yard pass from Lock to J’Mon Moore, capping a 13-play, 79-yard drive that took 8:09 off the clock.

Twice on third down on that drive, penalties gave the Tigers new life — a pass interference call on Michael Davis in the end zone and a roughing-the-passer and targeting penalty on Sae Tautu with 14:53 left in the game. Tautu was ejected.

“Those killed us,” Peck said of the penalties. “There were a couple of them on one drive. When you have those critical mistakes, it’s tough to win a close game. We saw that.”

BYU was down 13-10 when Mangum was sacked and fumbled the ball at the Cougar 22-yard line. Lock ended up converting on a third-and-19 with a 23-yard keeper, setting up another Missouri touchdown to make it 20-10 for Missouri.

BYU drew within 20-16 after a 6-yard touchdown pass from Mangum to Francis Bernard. But the Cougars couldn't get any closer.

To open the second half, BYU was putting together one of its best drives of the night, getting all the way to the Missouri 15-yard line when, on third-and-2, Adam Hine fumbled behind the line of scrimmage and Kentrell Brothers recovered.

But the Cougars got the ball back moments later when Lock was intercepted by Micah Hannemann.

BYU’s offense stalled again at the Missouri 21, and sent Trevor Samson out to attempt a 39-yard field goal.

But a delay of game penalty on the Tigers gave the Cougars a first down. Three plays later, Algernon Brown ran for an 11-yard touchdown on a delayed draw play and BYU took its first lead of the night, 10-6, with 6:21 left in the third quarter.

Although Mizzou led just 6-3 at halftime, it was in control of the game.

In the first half, BYU ran only 23 plays from scrimmage, compared to 49 for Missouri, and had the ball for just 9:25 minutes, compared to 20:35 for the Tigers.

While the Cougars struggled to sustain drives, Mizzou fashioned long, time-consuming drives while regularly converting on third downs.

BYU hosts Fresno State next Saturday in its home finale.

EMAIL: jeffc@deseretnews.com