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Missouri 24, Vanderbilt 14: Calling the touchdown play

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Ed Zurga

As referenced in today's Beyond the Box Score post, Bud Sasser raised his game when Mizzou absolutely needed him to.

Torren McGaster and Bud Sasser were yapping quite a bit during the game, and to be sure, McGaster won some battles. Sasser helped him out with a dropped pass as well.

At the time of the drop (mid-third quarter), passes to Sasser were 1-for-5 for five yards. Awful. And passes to anybody else weren't exactly productive either. But with Mizzou desperately needing someone to step up, Sasser did just that, catching four of his last five passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns. Whew.

On the second-to-last play of the first quarter, Mauk had hit Jimmie Hunt for a nice 35-yard strike down the sideline. Since then, he had completed just two of five passes for 10 yards and a sack. Mizzou had absolutely no faith in the passing game, and the Tigers' biggest play since then had come right before this strike to Sasser: a 36-yard quarterback draw by Mauk. Sasser and Sean Culkin had both dropped passes, and Mauk just had nobody open on the rare occasion when they asked him to throw.

Sasser's first score came about a tenth of a second after I said "See? Nobody open again!" from the stands. This time, Sasser was covered by design. He was waiting for Jimmie Hunt to rub him open.

Vanderbilt responded with a stop and a score to make it 17-14, and after Mizzou moved into Vandy territory, Marcus Murphy was stopped for a one-yard loss, then Taylor Chappell committed his third false start of the game. Mizzou faced a second-and-16 from the Vandy 25, and instead of setting up another long Andrew Baggett field goal attempt, offensive coordinator Josh Henson finally listened to the fans and called the touchdown play.

A minus play and a Chappell false start pushed Missouri back to a 2nd-and-16 at the 25 with 2:15 to go. Mauk came to the line and, apparently, said the word "touchdown." Then he went back to Old Faithful. Vanderbilt sent an extra rusher and the line picked it up. Mauk reared back and fired for the back left corner of the end zone, where Sasser was engaged in some arm fighting with McGaster. Sasser held off the corner with his right arm and got his left arm free, just in time for him to snare Mauk's pass as it descended and tap his left foot inbounds for a 25-yard touchdown grab. The play held up on review and the game was basically over. Sasser had his sixth touchdown reception of the season, all of them coming in the second halves of games. "Wasn't much talking after that," Sasser said of me and McGaster. Now do you see why I picked that seemingly benign play to highlight earlier?

At PowerMizzou this weekend after the game, former Mizzou receiver T.J. Moe talked about Sasser and mentioned how he's a no-separation guy; he's not going to burn you with his speed, and you have to trust him to make catches in traffic. Maty Mauk is still just a sophomore and sometimes seems to need to see guys open before throwing the ball their way. That's a problem when your go-to guy is someone who isn't frequently, blatantly open.

Sasser has just enough drops to make you worry, but some of Mizzou's best plays this year have come when Mauk simply heaved a ball in Sasser's direction. That's certainly what Mauk did late on Saturday afternoon.

Mauk went for the kill-shot, ending the game in one strike instead of two minutes, 15 seconds of blood-letting.

"Maty just felt it," Sasser said. "He was going to give me a chance, and, you know, Maty believes in me and I believe in him. That's what he told me, when we came into the locker room, that he just called 'Touchdown.' Out-loud. At the line. And that's Maty for you.

"But he made the play."

We'll see what this means going forward. A quarterback's instincts aren't likely to change because of one drive or one play, and at this point, Mauk mostly is what he is (and the receiving corps is what it is, too). But Mauk has been moving forward in the pocket more over these last couple of games, and if he can find just enough trust in Sasser to throw a couple of leap-of-faith passes each game (and if Sasser catches his share of those), that might give the offense a boost. It did in the second half against Vanderbilt, anyway.