Missouri finally has reason to cheer
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- This one was for Al Onofrio, and for Chase Daniel. This one was for Bob Stull and Linzy Collins and Darren McDonald and Brad Smith and Woody Widenhofer. This one was especially for the fans who roared from the opening kickoff that Gahn McGaffie returned 86 yards for a touchdown, who roared in the rain, who kept roaring even after Oklahoma took the lead late in the third quarter.
No. 11 Missouri's 36-27 victory over No. 1 Oklahoma, in short, was for every Tiger, in uniform and out, who has lived under a Crimson-and-Cream thumb for lo these many years.
The best team on Faurot Field won Saturday night. The best team in the Big 12 won Saturday night.
"If you want to notch our program up, respectwise, you've got to win games like this," said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, whose Tigers beat the Sooners for the first time in seven games since he took over the program in 2001. "We've fallen short a number of times. Obviously, it's very frustrating. But one thing we all are around here, and it starts with me: I'm a competitor, and I'm a fighter. You've just got to compete."
The Sooners (6-1, 2-1) became the third No. 1 to lose in as many weeks. Their reign atop college football began in surprise, given that neither human poll ranked Oklahoma higher than third. The BCS computers boosted the Sooners atop the sport. Clearly, the computers had never seen them play. Oklahoma is a young team, prone to lapses in concentration and mistakes that its talent has enabled it to overcome.
Or perhaps humans and computers alike had underestimated the Tigers (7-0, 3-0). Missouri, not Oklahoma, played like a team accustomed to having "College GameDay" on campus and a national television audience. The Sooners, not the Tigers, self-destructed with three turnovers, two in the red zone.
Oklahoma recovered two Missouri fumbles, one on the Tigers' 22-yard-line. But that trip into the red zone early in the third quarter also yielded no points. Jimmy Stevens hooked a 30-yard field goal.
Four of Missouri's scores came on a short field -- drives of 41 or fewer yards. Just as important, the Tigers forced the Sooners to play the long field. Oklahoma had 15 possessions, 12 of which began at its own 31 or deeper.
"Anytime we win the field position game, we're going to win football games," Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. "I believe this was our 29th win in a row when we won the turnover margin."
Gabbert had the numbers of a winning quarterback (30-42-0, 308 yards, one touchdown). When the Sooners took away his best receivers, he made a star out of junior Jerrell Jackson, who made nine catches for 139 yards and the touchdown. That's half as many catches as Jackson had made all season.
The Sooners, as has been their wont this season, played poorly in the fourth quarter. This time, with only a 21-20 lead after three quarters, they didn't have a cushion to ease their fall. Missouri scored 16 consecutive points to blow open the game before Oklahoma scored again.
Landry Jones did throw for 303 yards and three touchdowns, but the Missouri defense allowed Jones to throw for only 55 yards after halftime. He went 0-for-7 in the fourth quarter.
But let's not dig too deeply into how the Tigers won this game. The import of this victory might not last past the next Saturday, when Missouri will play at No. 16 Nebraska in a game that almost certainly will decide the Big 12 North. For Missouri to win the Big 12, it's likely that it will have to beat Oklahoma again.
What's important to take away from Saturday night is the delirium that engulfed Faurot Field as it became clear that the Tigers would win.
"A couple of years ago," center Tim Barnes said after the game, "Coach Pinkel would tell us, 'We haven't won at K-State in this many years, so we need to go over that hurdle. We haven't beat Colorado at Colorado in this many years, so we need to go over that hurdle.'
"This year, we haven't beaten Oklahoma in a long time. I played against them in '08, and I was there in '07 for the two games. To me, I just wanted to beat these guys because they were one of the teams we hadn't beaten yet. Getting over that hurdle was really important."
As the final second ticked off, and thousands of Missouri students raced onto the field, an unlucky few had the misfortune to be arrested for trespassing. A local sheriff loosely guided one young Tigers fan, his hands cuffed behind his back. The fan veered toward a Missouri player and, with adoration in his eyes, said, "I f---in' love you guys."
You don't often hear that from a kid in custody. But you don't often see Missouri beat Oklahoma. This victory was for anyone who bleeds black and gold.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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