JONESBORO, Arkansas — Arkansas State players walked into the locker room wearing silly grins.
“We got ’em,” some said. “We’re ready,” said others.
On a day the college football world saw some traditional powers fall or get pushed to the brink — an upset here, an overtime squeaker there — No. 21 Missouri (2-0) would not fall in Jonesboro, fending off the Red Wolves (0-2), 27-20.
It didn’t always look that way. Quarterback Maty Mauk, the engine of the Tiger offense, was intercepted early in the second quarter. Three plays later, Arkansas State quarterback Fredi Knighten hit Tres Houston for a touchdown.
Freshman quarterback Drew Lock threw another pick on the first snap of the next drive.
“We are making a lot of our own mistakes,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “We are doing it to ourselves.”
That was Missouri’s low point. It took the Tigers a while to climb back up. The Red Wolves took a seven-point lead into half time, until Missouri sprang back in the second half with 17 points.
“There’s glimpses of us being really good,” center Evan Boehm said. “But then we just kill ourselves.”
It was also Arkansas State’s high point, to the delight of 29,143 fans. The team had a week-long pep rally called “Paint the Town Red” leading up to the game. The university just finished a renovation of the stadium’s luxury boxes. Athletics officials on a radio show at halftime called the game — and the Red Wolves’ seven-point lead — the biggest in school history.
That feeling didn’t last.
Missouri took the lead at the end of the third quarter when Mauk flipped a jump-pass to tight end Sean Culkin, who ran 21 yards for a score. Two drives earlier, he floated the ball to Wesley Leftwich, playing his first game of the season, for a 32-yard touchdown.
Late in the fourth quarter, he scrambled for 19 yards on third-and-13 to set up a field goal from Andrew Baggett.
“We got some severe problems here,” Pinkel said of his team’s off-and-on offense. “We’re just screaming for consistency in our offense. … We’re stopping ourselves a lot.”
Missouri’s bend-but-don’t-break defense took over after that. Linebacker Kentrell Brothers ripped a pass away from a Arkansas State receiver when the Red Wolves drove in the middle of the fourth quarter. He also had a game-high 16 tackles.
On back-to-back plays after a Mauk fourth-quarter interception that gave Arkansas State the ball at Missouri’s 28 yard line, Brothers and Charles Harris made tackles forcing the Red Wolves into a field goal.
Those were the last points they’d score. During a last-ditch drive, Brothers grabbed another interception on a tipped ball, sprawling out on the turf near midfield to cradle the football like an egg that fell off a kitchen counter.
“I felt like it was the most unathletic thing ever,” he said.
Linebacker Michael Scherer didn’t think so.
“I told you he had it,” Scherer told defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski after the play.
Even when it didn’t look like it on Saturday, Brothers — and ultimately his Tigers — found a way.
Headline supplied by Craig Carr of Newton, Illinois.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.