It had been a little less than five years since No. 23 Missouri and Oklahoma State faced off on a football field.
In the 2014 Cotton Bowl, the then-No. 8 Tigers knocked off the then-No. 13 Cowboys, 41-31, in the teams’ first meeting since Missouri left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. On Monday, the two former foes took the field once again as they squared off in the Autozone Liberty Bowl.
The 2018 edition of the decades-old rivalry was much more of a grind-it-out affair than past iterations. When the dust settled though, it was Oklahoma State that emerged with a 38-33 victory in Memphis.
The day started on a positive note for Missouri’s defense.
Defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., in the final game of his college career, sacked Oklahoma State’s Taylor Cornelius for a loss of six on the first Cowboys’ first possession, showing signs of the improved defense the Tigers had shown toward the end of the season.
But then, the same old Missouri struggles in the secondary showed.
Safety Cam Hilton dropped what was a sure interception and possible pick-six later in the drive, giving Oklahoma State new life. Four plays later, Cornelius found Dillon Stoner over the middle for a 30-yard touchdown to put the Cowboys up by seven.
That would be a common theme in the first quarter, with Cornelius finding numerous receivers open as he picked apart the secondary. The senior finished the quarter 9-of-11 for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Things weren’t much better for the Tigers on the other side of the ball.
Offensive coordinator Derek Dooley was hell bent on getting the ground game going, but running backs Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie struggled to pick up any yards. The running back duo and quarterback Drew Lock combined for just 32 yards on nine carries, with Badie’s 18-yard rush with about five minutes to play the only reason Missouri averaged over two yards-per-carry.
Lock did manage to find receiver Emanuel Hall on their patented deep-ball connection late in the quarter, a 58-yarder that set up a Tucker McCann field goal to cut the lead to four.
The rest of the half began to look a bit more like the shootouts the teams put on in past matchups.
Rountree broke off for 97 of his 204 total rushing yards on the day, giving the Tigers the runs they had been looking for throughout the first half. Lock found both receiver Dominic Gicinto (five yards) and tight end Kendall Blanton (16 yards) in the end zone for touchdowns, and although Cornelius did get seven back on a touchdown to Tyron Johnson, Missouri took a 16-14 lead into halftime.
The second half did not start off in the Tigers’ favor.
The Cowboys drove the ball 75 yards the field to score a touchdown with ease, and then Jalen Knox fumbled his first catch of the day on Missouri’s next possession to give the ball back to Oklahoma State deep in the Tigers’ own territory. Three plays later, running back Chuba Hubbard ran in a four-yard score and put the Cowboys up 14.
DeMarkus Acy has improved drastically throughout his junior season, enough to earn him a second-team All-SEC selection, but he didn’t look like it throughout the second half.
With Oklahoma State facing 3rd and 13 in its own territory, Acy got burned twice in a row by Tyron Johnson for 78 yards and another touchdown. He was then flagged for pass interference at the end of the quarter, and Missouri trailed 35-19 with just 15:00 remaining.
But the game wasn’t over. Lock and Hilton made sure of it.
On the first play of the fourth, Cornelius escaped a sack but threw a pass right into Hilton’s hands for a pick. Lock then found Johnathon Johnson for an 86-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline to cut the lead to nine. Five plays later, Hilton picked off Cornelius once again, this time in the end zone.
Rountree then took a 55-yard rush to the house to cut the lead to two, and just like that, the Tigers were back in the game.
Trailing 38-33 with 5:54 left to go, Lock was given one last chance to show off the skills that catch NFL scouts’ eyes.
He led Missouri to Oklahoma State’s nine on the back of some pro-level throws. Facing fourth and one, though, Lock couldn’t pick up one last first down on a run to the right side, and the Tigers lose a heartbreaker to end their season.