Mizzou falls flat in SEC Championship

The Tigers will find out tomorrow what bowl game they are headed to.

ATLANTA — With media crowded around him, Bud Sasser paused.

Mid-answer, he had to tell a member of Missouri’s football equipment staff that he wanted to keep the nameplate above his Georgia Dome locker.

The black strip with his name and the Southeastern Conference logo in white lettering is one of the few things Sasser would like to remember about No. 14 Mizzou’s 42-13 loss to No. 1 Alabama (12-1) in the conference championship game.

For the second consecutive season, pundits didn’t pick Missouri to win its division. For a second consecutive season, Mizzou (10-3) kept the championship game close before proving unable to stop the bleeding.

“It always sucks,” Sasser said. “Any loss sucks.”

When Sasser scored Mizzou’s first and only touchdown of the game on a 1-yard slant pattern in the third quarter, the Tigers were within two scores. Sasser made a shushing gesture to the Crimson Tide fans.

Mizzou senior receiver Jimmie Hunt set up the score a few plays before, when he caught a 63-yard throw from Missouri sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk.

The Tigers scored again their next possession on of one of two field goals by senior kicker Andrew Baggett, making it 21-13 Alabama with under five minutes left in the third quarter.

Mizzou had crawled back from an 18-point first half deficit.

But then the bottom fell out.

The Crimson Tide capped off a 10-play, 64-yard drive with a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. It was the first of three consecutive touchdown drives by Alabama.

The Tigers never answered with big drives of their own in between Crimson Tide scores, providing the Missouri defense with little reprieve.

“It hurts, man,” senior defensive end Markus Golden said. “It hurts.”

Alabama averaged nearly 10 yards per play in the fourth quarter.

The Crimson Tide’s 42 points and 504 yards are season highs against the Mizzou defense — a unit that Alabama coach Nick Saban on Friday called “probably the best defensive team in the SEC.”

Alabama quarterback Blake Sims, who finished as the game’s MVP, was 23-of-27 for 262 yards. His favorite target, receiver Amari Cooper, had a SEC Championship Game record 12 catches for 83 yards.

“I'm really disappointed how we played,” Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said. “We played a great football team. You play a great football team, you've got to play well. They're going to make plays, and you've got to make plays.”

Golden said the Tigers didn’t get enough pressure on Sims, that the Crimson Tide’s quarterback was able to release the ball as soon as he finished his three-step drop.

“Who can’t get the ball off in three steps?” Golden asked, tape still wrapped around his hands. “I can go out there and do that.”

For much of the game, Missouri was without the man who has gotten to the opposing quarterback the most. Mizzou junior defensive end Shane Ray, the team’s sack leader and a potential All-American, hit Sims after he threw a 58-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

The top of Ray’s helmet hit the bottom of Sims’. Officials called Ray for targeting, ejecting him from the contest with over 11 minutes left in the first half.

After the game, Ray, already showered and with his sweatsuit on, said he was “heartbroken.”

“It’s the championship game,” Ray said. “Getting ejected for a call — it’s not how you want to end the season at all.”

Ray said he disagreed with the penalty, but that he would let others decide on their own if it was the correct call.

"We've had personal fouls in these games, penalties,” Pinkel said of the penalty. “We've had them the last three or four weeks also, and you get in big games like this, and it's not very good.”

Be it penalties or drops, Sasser said the Tigers failed to execute.

Hunt, who had a career-high 169 receiving yards, made big plays, Sasser said, but the rest of the team was flat.

On 23 rushes, Mizzou totaled just 41 yards — the Tigers lowest single-game total of the season.

Mauk finished 16-of-34 passing for 272 yards.

“We kind of thought we were gonna just go through the motions and expect everything to work out, and it doesn’t work that way," Sasser said. "You need plays like what Jimmie made. … You need that.”

Sasser paused again.

“Ugh, you gotta show up, man.”

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