COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Freezing temperatures couldn’t chill Missouri on Saturday night.
Brady Cook tossed three touchdown passes, Luther Burden and Cody Schrader both scored twice and the Tigers rolled to a 45-14 victory over New Mexico State.
The Aggies (4-6) showed spark on their opening drive with quarterback Diego Pavia completing his first three passes for 30 yards and running back Jamoni Jones chipping in 9 yards on the ground. But the New Mexico State drive stalled at the Missouri 36 as the Tigers’ defense began to impose its will, forcing seven consecutive incompletions before Pavia completed his next pass.
The Tigers’ offense, for a change, clicked from the opening drive. Cook led an 11-play scoring drive capped off with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Burden. The freshman receiver took the tunnel screen from Cook and hurdled a defender in reaching the end zone, putting the Tigers (5-6) on top 7-0.
Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz said he felt Cook delivered two of his best performances of the season in his last two games.
“I thought he made some great decisions,” Drinkwitz said. “We were really aggressive early trying to throw the ball down the field to get a lead.
“I thought he did a great job of not forcing it, taking his check-downs, and then obviously did a good job with his feet, running, whether it was for a zone read or a quarterback draw. It was another good performance, he’s got to continue to build on it.”
Cook and the offense used a more methodical approach on the team’s next possession, embarking on a 17-play, 81-yard drive that ended with Cody Schrader’s 2-yard touchdown run. Schrader, a senior transfer from Division II Truman State, rushed for 70 yards on 18 carries and caught four passes for 47 yards.
Cook connected with tight end Ryan Hoerstkamp for a 32-yard touchdown with 4:28 left in the second quarter and the Tigers led 21-0.
“Things are just starting to click, the offense has started to click and some of those plays are starting to hit,” Cook said. “I think we’ve played pretty consistent the past couple of weeks offensively. Obviously, still stuff to improve on, and we’ll get back to it tomorrow.”
The Aggies scored in the third quarter thanks to a big play from backup freshman quarterback Gavin Frakes. After an injury briefly knocked Pavia out of the game, Frakes found Eric Marsh for 21 yards on fourth-and-2 from the Missouri 40-yard line. Pavia returned to the game and two plays later he tossed a pitch on the option to tailback Star Thomas for a 10-yard touchdown run.
Burden scored his second touchdown late in the third quarter, taking a pop pass on a jet sweep from Cook and weaving 14 yards into the end zone to put the Tigers on top 35-7. Cook contributed three catches for 35 yards and two scores. He also ran three times for 12 yards.
“(Burden’s) got a knack with the ball in his hands to make some plays,” Drinkwitz said. “I don’t think we even blocked them up exactly the way they’re supposed to. When he gets his shoulders going downhill he’s really tough to tackle.”
Receiver Barrett Banister paced the Tigers with seven catches for 91 yards, both career highs for the senior in his sixth season with Missouri. Cook completed 19 of 27 passes for 251 yards with three touchdowns, while leading the Tigers with 71 yards rushing on seven carries.
Bannister has played in 55 games for the Tigers, and Drinkwitz said he’s leaving his mark as an unsung hero.
“Barrett’s been a really unselfish player for us,” Drinkwitz said. “(He) watches other guys go out and get a lot of plays designed for them and he just kind of shows up and makes big catches on third downs and does a lot of things right.”
Missouri’s defense even got involved in the scoring action when sophomore defensive back Daylan Carnell intercepted a pass from Pavia and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead to 42-7.
A fumble by Tigers freshman running back Tavorus Jones set up a short field for New Mexico State in the fourth, and the Aggies capitalized. Frakes led a 44-yard scoring drive, which he finished off with a 13-yard touchdown run. Frakes completed 2 of 4 passes for 39 yards and also rushed for 22 yards in relief. Pavia was 6-of-17 passing for 76 yards and led his team with 50 yards rushing on nine carries.
The Tigers kept their bowl hopes alive with the victory. There are scenarios in which the Tigers can secure a bowl bid with five wins but a victory over Arkansas in their regular-season finale would ensure a postseason appearance.
GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE
Tigers fans perhaps saw a preview of the 2023 season late in the contest with heralded freshman quarterback Sam Horn seeing his first action with the Tigers. Horn’s first pass went for 29 yards to Bannister but a penalty on Missouri wiped out the play. Horn officially finished with no completions on two attempts and a run for 10 yards in his only drive.
Hoerstkamp’s touchdown catch was the first target and reception by the redshirt freshman. Jones had his first collegiate catch for a 32-yard gain. Drinkwitz said he learned a lot about some of his young players getting their first significant action of the season.
“I think it’s a real opportunity for them to develop and see what playing in a college football environment is like and how fast the speed of the game moves and handle their nerves,” Drinkwitz said. “I thought some of those guys handled it really well, I thought some of them didn’t, to be honest.”
Missouri proved to have too much speed, strength and size for New Mexico State, piling up 443 yards of offense while holding the Aggies to just 257 total yards.
It wasn’t a perfect night for the Tigers, however, especially their third down-defense, which allowed eight conversions on 16 attempts.
“I thought they played OK,” Drinkwitz said. “I didn’t think it was as clean as we wanted it to be. I’m not sure we had a three-and-out all night. Just being on the headsets I know that we weren’t pleased with some of the things that we were letting out. I didn’t think our zone coverage was very good tonight.
“There’s a lot of things that got to be cleaned up before Friday, I know that.”
Missouri: The Tigers host Arkansas next Friday in the Battle Line Rivalry game.
New Mexico State: The Aggies travel to Liberty for their season finale next Saturday.