Mizzou’s first season in the SEC didn’t go down as a year to remember. The Tigers finished the season 5-7 with five losses against the top 10 teams in the country, and a couple inexplicable losses at home against Vanderbilt and Syracuse.
But 2012 didn’t leave us without reason for optimism. And on a mid-November afternoon in Knoxville, the Tigers gave fans every reason to believe things could get turned around.
Things got off to an ugly start. Mizzou was losing 28-14 by the middle of the 3rd quarter. It looked like a lost game in what was quickly devolving into a lost season.
Then something miraculous happened. The offense finally woke up. Mizzou finished the game scoring 14 unanswered, forcing overtime.
Mizzou & Tennessee traded touchdowns until we finally got to the fourth overtime. That’s when Tennessee decided to go for it on 4th & 3. The Tigers got a stop. And on the final possession, Andrew Baggett kicked a 35-yard field goal to send everyone home.
The Tigers season had life, Derek Dooley was fired by Tennessee two weeks later, and the rest is history.
(Can we pretend I didn’t mention Dooley? I would like to pretend I don’t have a history with the gentleman) *Editor’s note: NOPE
Anyway, there were a few notable Mizzou players who became household names that day:
- Freshman receiver Dorial Green-Beckham had one touchdown in his first seven games combined. He had two against the Vols, and had one in each of the next two games of the season. DGB would go on to finish 2013 with 12 receiving touchdowns.
- Sophomore receiver Jimmie Hunt had two touchdowns against Tennessee - one on a kickoff return, and his first career touchdown reception against a power-five opponent. Hunt went on to have eight touchdowns and nearly 1,000 total yards from scrimmage in 2013 & 2014.
- Junior defensive end Michael Sam had a sack and an important pressure late in the game against the Vols. Sam was just a part-time player splitting time with Kony Ealy opposite Brad Madison. He went on to have a decent year in 2013.
From Bill’s Beyond the Box Score:
4.5. Sacks by Michael Sam in 2012. That total is higher than that of Sheldon Richardson (4.0), Kony Ealy (3.5) or Brad Madison (3.5). In the third quarter on Saturday, he became just the fourth player all season to sack Tyler Bray in 2012, and he logged one of Mizzou’s five quarterback hurries as well. (Shane Ray chipped in with two of those.) Over the past few weeks, I have begun to realize just how much I have criminally understated Sam’s contributions in recent seasons. He is the most underrated player on the Missouri defense, and he has had a very nice season (7.0 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, four hurries, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery).
- Freshman kicker Andrew Baggett finished the game 6-for-6 on field goals, including the game-winner in the 4th overtime. Baggett is the current record-holder for the most field goals made in Mizzou football history.
I don’t know many people who have fond memories of the 2012 season. The first season in the SEC was the first time the Tigers missed out on playing in a bowl game since 2005. The injuries piled up. The depth was tested. And the competition level reached new heights.
But all of those factors led to what we saw over the next two seasons. The injuries forced young players into action who would go on to be some of the best players we’ve seen over the last decade. The offensive line developed a core group of players who would go on to be key contributors in 2013 and 2014. The receiver corps took their lumps before breaking out the following season.
2012 was a year of growth. It was the classic ‘one step back before two steps forward’ type of year.
Fans might not have seen it at the time, but we saw a glimpse into that potential on that first SEC trip to Knoxville in mid-November 2012.