It takes a long time before we come to truly understand the significance (or insignificance) of a given game. As rich as the context is leading into a game, it’s equally rich (or richer) once we know what happened afterward.
In real time, Mizzou’s wild, four-overtime win over Tennessee in 2012 was big enough. It cut off a run of three losses in four games, and for a week, at least, it made bowl eligibility seem semi-likely again.
With hindsight, though, we see that it wasn’t simply the fact that Mizzou came back from 14 points down in the second half to win in Knoxville. It was who was leading the way in the comeback.
- Bud Sasser caught a 40-yard pass to set up a short touchdown that cut UT’s lead to 28-21 late in the third quarter.
- Michael Sam sacked Tyler Bray to force a punt late in the third quarter, then hurried Bray into an incompletion on a third down in the fourth quarter. Early in the fourth, E.J. Gaines stopped Justin Hunter short of the chains on a third-and-6.
- James Franklin rushed for 23 yards, then completed fourth-down passes for 17 yards to Marcus Lucas and for 25 yards to Dorial Green-Beckham on the game-tying drive.
- Jimmie Hunt, who had returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the first half, caught a 24-yard touchdown pass in the first overtime.
- Lucas made a beautiful third-down catch for an 18-yard touchdown in the second overtime, then Green-Beckham scored in the third OT.
- Randy Ponder and Kony Ealy broke up passes in the fourth overtime, then Ian Simon separated Zach Rogers from the ball on fourth-and-three, giving Mizzou a chance for the win.
- Andrew Baggett nailed a 35-yard field goal to win the game.
Sam would become the 2013 SEC defensive player of the year, and he was barely the best Mizzou defensive end that year because Ealy was so good at times, too.
Franklin moved on past a frustrating, injury-plagued 2012 season to become an incredible 2013 leader. Here’s what I said about him at the time:
He still leaves the pocket at the wrong time sometimes. I still hold my breath as he's getting ready to throw the ball. He's still not much of a runner right now. He's still not the James Franklin we would be seeing without the knee injury and two different shoulder injuries. There's no getting that guy back right now. But he just got better, and better, and better as the game progressed yesterday, and he deserves an epic amount of credit for that. Nine first-half pass attempts gained 12 yards. His next 24 gained 208. And with the game on the line, he completed his last four third- and fourth-down passes for 70 yards and three touchdowns. Damn.
Meanwhile, Lucas and Green-Beckham teamed with L’Damian Washington to create a huge, mismatch-friendly 2013 receiving corps, while Sasser and Hunt would wait their turn and lead the 2014 team to an SEC East title as well. Baggett would nail a couple of huge field goals in the 2014 Cotton Bowl. Gaines ... Ponder ... Simon ... they would all become key contributors on those teams as well.
This was an incredibly fun (and stressful) fall Saturday in what would end up being a disappointing 5-7 campaign. It was also a crazy-accurate harbinger of what was to come for Missouri Football, even if the next couple of weeks were frustrating again. First, you catch glimpses. Then, those glimpses become a sustained level of play.
(Hopefully we’re looking back at, say, the 2016 Arkansas game with similar reverence in the future.)