Mizzou lets aggressive play do the talking in upset of No. 3 Sooners

Publish date:

"You can't stop us!" the students chanted, and every time they did, one of the green shirts would glance back at the thinner line of actual law enforcement officers behind them with a look that pleaded, "You've got this, right?"

Even if his colleagues couldn't stop the outpouring of raging hormones from the stands, University of Missouri police officer Dustin Moyer had his assignment locked down tight. Moyer, a five-year veteran of the force in his first season as Missouri coach Gary Pinkel's gameday bodyguard, predicted Saturday's result two weeks earlier. Not long after the Tigers beat Colorado, Moyer began formulating a plan.

"He was real serious," Pinkel said. "He said, 'I want to know how you want to get off the field when we beat Oklahoma.'"

By the time Oklahoma's last lateral hit the field and the final whistle blew on Missouri's 36-27 upset of the No. 1 team in the BCS rankings, the students already covered one end zone. Then, they surged over Missouri's sideline and toward the Tiger logo at the 50-yard line. Moyer's first mission was to get Pinkel to Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops for a postgame handshake. He had to call an audible. "We didn't even get to Bob tonight," Moyer said. Then, Moyer had to get Pinkel to the end zone, where Pinkel would hug quarterback Blaine Gabbert and tell an ESPN audience exactly how much one of the biggest wins in school history meant. How did Moyer, a slim, athletic 27-year-old from Lamar, Mo., matriculate Pinkel through the crowd? "You know what a fullback does?" asked Moyer, who is a celebrity in his own right. (He won People magazine's 2009 Sexiest Dad Alive poll)

A fullback -- a good one, anyway -- hits his opponent in the mouth. That's exactly what the Tigers did Saturday to beat Oklahoma for the first time since 1998 and only the second time since 1983. This was not the finesse team that went 12-2 in 2007 with two losses to Oklahoma. This was not the soft bunch that got blown off the field by the Sooners in the 2008 Big 12 title game.

These Tigers have the same explosive passing game those Missouri teams did. Gabbert threw for 308 yards and one touchdown Saturday. The difference is these Tigers also can line up and pound the ball. Twice, Missouri converted must-get short-yardage situations by running in two extra offensive linemen, sticking them a yard behind each A-gap and daring Oklahoma to stop the surge.

These Tigers can play defense, too. Coordinator Dave Steckel attacks quarterbacks, and he sent plenty of beef at Oklahoma's Landry Jones. Missouri only sacked Jones once, but the Tigers got in his face enough early that Oklahoma abandoned the idea of downfield passing and settled for quick bubble screens, rendered ineffective by Missouri's sure tackling.

Meanwhile, Gabbert's jersey remained almost spotless. He had what seemed like hours to dissect Oklahoma's coverages. "We weren't at all effective rushing the passer," Stoops said. "They kicked our butts there, too."

No one got a fifth down Saturday. No one ran a flea-kicker, either. It wouldn't have mattered if Oklahoma had gotten a lucky break. How do you overcome decades of heartbreak? You do it with three hours of butt kick.

"We won," tight end Michael Egnew said, "because we had more heart."

Said Pinkel: "It's big for the university, for our football program, for all those people out there in gold. ... If you want to notch your program up respect-wise, you've got to win games like this. We've fallen short a number of times."

The Tigers didn't fall short Saturday because they refused to break. Missouri struck first when Gahn McGaffie returned the opening kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown, but they gave that score back by muffing a punt and giving Oklahoma a short field. Then, with the score tied at seven in the first quarter, Oklahoma drove to the Missouri 12. Jones tried to fire a pass to the left, but the ball stuck in the outstretched hands of defensive end Aldon Smith, who was playing his first game since breaking his leg Sept. 18 against San Diego State. Smith raced down the field before he was finally dragged down at the Oklahoma 28. "I thought he was going to take it all the way, but he got caught," Gabbert said. "We'll talk about that later. I'll have a few words with him."

The only words Gabbert should utter to Smith are "thank you." Smith's return means fellow end Brad Madison, who leads the Tigers with four sacks, becomes the best backup defensive end in America. "That [offensive] tackle doesn't get to sub out," Smith said. "He gets to go against somebody who is bringing it every time."

If the Tigers sound awfully confident, it's because they are. Still, they understand these moments are fleeting. Two weeks ago, South Carolina knocked off No. 1 Alabama and took control of the SEC East. The Gamecocks promptly lost at Kentucky the following Saturday. Missouri next task is even tougher than that. The Tigers must face Nebraska in Lincoln. "That's our challenge," Pinkel said. "Once you watch the Nebraska film, it's obvious."

But for one night, Pinkel allowed the Tigers to enjoy their history-making win. As he spoke, the crowd dispersed, headed for Harpo's or anywhere else where hops-and-barley-flavored beverages flowed. The man who shepherded Pinkel through that crowd stood off to the side and explained why he began working up Pinkel's escape plan two weeks earlier. "I don't know if you've been paying attention," Moyer said, "but I felt like this was our best chance since I've been with the police department to beat Oklahoma."

Later, Moyer spoke of a day when the Tigers might be so good that Pinkel won't need an escape plan if Missouri beats No. 1. "It needs to become an everyday thing," Moyer said. "Doesn't it?"