Setting the Scene:
The score is Arkansas 14 - Mizzou 6 and Arkansas has just put Mizzou on their own two yard line, there's 1:13 left in the third quarter. To this point, Mizzou had gained 212 yards on 60 plays, good for 3.53 yards per play.
Needing to drive 98 yards, Josh Henson asked Maty Mauk and the now healthy wide receiver corps of Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White to drive the length of the field to score. They picked up 8.9 yards per play, 92 yards of which came via the pass and each of the senior wide receivers stepped up to make key plays, perhaps none more than the two point conversion hauled in by Darius White.
Mizzou needed to go 98 yards, score, and get a two point conversion just to tie the game. Here are the plays that made that happen.
First and 10 from their own two yard line
Lining up with their top 3 wide receivers out left, Mizzou used a run on first down on their own goal line to give Maty Mauk some breathing space. Marcus Murphy picked up 2 yards, giving Josh Henson just enough breathing space to call a play action quick hitting play where a Maty Mauk pass found Bud Sasser at the seven yard line and he was able to turn up field for 5 more yards and a first down. Arkansas appeared to bite on the run fake which prevented the weak side linebacker, #51, from staying tight on Sasser. It was a gutsy call, having Mauk throw a sideline pass out of his own endzone, perhaps my anxiety was heightened by the Arkansas fan sitting behind me who kept shouting for Mauk to throw a pick-6.
The next few plays consisted of an incomplete pass that was deflected at the line of scrimmage and a short run by Marcus Murphy before the start of the 3rd quarter. This resulted in Mizzou needing to drive away from my vantage point in section AA and toward the supposedly cursed north endzone. Regardless, the 4th quarter started with a critical 3rd down and 7.
Mizzou lined up with an empty backfield, which according to David Morrison's snap count article was used most extensively all season in this game. Maty Mauk took a five step drop and, ignoring the pressure coming off the right tackle, launched a pass to Jimmie Hunt for 44 yards who bobbled until the last possible second. The pass came against senior corner back #23 Tevin Mitchel. Third down for Hunt indeed.
Mizzou's next two first downs, both runs, offset each other in a rather fitting manner. The first down after Hunt's long gain, Marcus Murphy took a sweep off the right side 11 yards for another first down. Russell Hansbrough took the next handoff 1 yard but Sean Culkin was called for holding, backing them up 10 yards and setting up a 1st and 20. Maty Mauk hit Sean Culkin for 4 yards on a short hitch almost as if to say 'it's cool Thor, we got this."
The next play was truly incredible. Sitting from my seats in the south endzone I could tell from the crowd's reaction that Bud Sasser manged to pull in this incredible, 28 yard corner route catch on the left sideline.
The offensive line stonewalls the Arkansas pass rush, including a tremendous job from LT Mitch Morse not giving up ground to the RDE while on an island.
Watching the catch on replay I couldn't help but think of Sasser's 4th quarter touchdown against Tennessee the week before. Sasser set up the catch by cutting inside from the X position, dragging the safety inside to cover the deep inside route. We briefly lose sight of him but he must have sold the inside well enough to open up the space necessary to make the catch against the left side line. If you notice, he's able to get both feet down with room to spare.
Another thing I noticed while watching the replay was Maty Mauk's eye discipline on this throw specifically. He's not perfect, but he's doing a better job of not staring down his target, he even included a subtle head shake to keep the safety honest, all the while keeping his eyes on the center/left side of the field. I'm not going to pretend all his problems are fixed, but these are steps that can help mask his intentions.
On the goal line, Mauk tries to find Sean Culkin on a play action but the pass is too high. I could be convinced a touchdown pass to a tight end was meant to impress a specific recruit in attendance, but even if it wasn't, I liked the playcall and the throw, Mauk put the pass high where only the 6'6" Culkin could try for it and it came very close to catching the Arkansas defense off guard.
The next play, second and goal, Maty Mauk takes a three step drop and lofts a high pass complete to Jimmie Hunt for a 4 yard touchdown. Something the GIF below doesn't show is the read Mauk makes just before snapping the ball, he identifies Arkansas linebacker #47 Martrell Spaight threatening to blitz at the bottom of the screen, checked with the sideline and shifted Russell Hansbrough to the left side of the formation to help pick up the blitz. I don't think it changed the play call, but again it's a minor tweak that demonstrates he's getting better at making pre-snap reads.
The rest of this play is simply Jimmie Hunt making up for that drop in the first half by demonstrating great body control with his twisting midair touchdown grab.
It's at this point I want to highlight the fact that Maty Mauk, for all his flaws, currently has 12 touchdowns and 0 interceptions when in the red zone, a stat that will absolutely be tested against Alabama's phenomenal red-zone defense.
Still needing a two point conversion to tie it Josh Henson turned to his bag of tricks and possibly the most clutch quarterback in Mizzou history: Bud Sasser.
Will noticed No. 9, a 2-point conversion play run by Clemson against Georgia Tech in 2012. On the play, Clemson wideout DeAndre Hopkins took a pitch from tailback Andre Ellington and threw to quarterback Tajh Boyd in the end zone.
But on twitter TJ Moe says that this play has been in the playbook since 2007
If you all remember, that's the same play @jmac_18 threw against Oklahoma when he played for Mizzou. Have had that play in for years.— T.J. Moe (@TJMoe28) November 28, 2014
And sure enough, if you go back to the 2007 Big 12 Championship game vs Oklahoma, you can see it happen at the 4:36 mark in this video (the video was apparently shot using a potato). I could understand not wanting to rewatch that particularly game but it makes me wonder how much game film coaches keep around and analyze of their own team vs others.
No matter if it was Josh Henson's son or a throw back to Jeremy Maclin, the trick play worked so well no one in my section knew what'd happened until the roar of the crowd made it clear, Mizzou was one score closer to returning to Atlanta.
Next we'll look at the drive that booked Mizzou's return to the SEC Championship game.