This is Top Rope, a biannual SEC football column for the USA TODAY Network Blake Topmeyer.
Auburn’s embattled coach Bryan Harsin needed a team that stood up and fought for their job.
With Auburn’s back firmly against the wall, Missouri rallied to Harsin’s aid on Saturday, missing chances at every turn.
This was not a case of Missouri snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. No, victory was past the jaws and into the esophagus, but Missouri cleaned it out of his system like poison.
Or, as Missouri fans might say, Mizzou just made it Mizzou. Never has a loss embodied a snake-bitten program more than Missouri’s 17-14 overtime loss on the Plains.
Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz claimed a starring role in this comedy.
The MU defense delivered a fourth stop with less than two minutes remaining in a tie after Harsin opted to bet on a conversion rather than attempt a 46-yard field goal. You can’t blame Harsin for being aggressive considering kicker Anders Carlson had missed from a similar distance earlier in the game.
college football, you know? Not to be trusted.
MISSOURI COACH EXPLAINS:Why end up being conservative? Here’s what Eliah Drinkwitz had to say
AUBURN COACH EXPLAINS:Why bet on fourth down instead of field goal? Here’s what Bryan Harsin had to say
Missouri put on an impressive march after recapturing the ball and had first-and-goal from the 3-yard line with 50 seconds left after Dominic Lovett’s brilliant catch on the touchline.
Since Drinkwitz was more conservative than Newt Gingrich.
Drinkwitz worried that Auburn, who hadn’t scored since the first quarter, would suddenly find Tom Brady on his touchline. If Missouri scored a touchdown with time remaining, Drinkwitz figured AU could use their lone timeout to their advantage and move down in a whirlwind for a game-winning touchdown.
But coaches who follow a game of chess often turn out to be better suited to charades.
Instead of attempting a touchdown or advancing toward the goal line, Drinkwitz ordered the retreat.
Brady Cook fired the shotgun and knelt in the middle of the field – and assisted Missouri 5 yards from the goal posts in preparation for a field goal.
Auburn has burned its last time out, the chance for a Brady-powered rebuttal now exhausted.
Next game, another kneel.
Get All-America kicker Harrison Mevis for a 26-yard chip shot.
A gimme, right?
Nothing like that for college footballers.
Mevis brought the boot to the ball and raised his hands to signal, “It’s good!”
It was not.
The ball slipped past the right post.
Missouri wasn’t finished manufacturing Harsin’s escape hatch.
Carlson fired a 44-yard field goal attempt off the goalposts and toward the touchline when AU went into overtime, but for the second time in the game, Missouri was caught offside on a field goal.
Carlson proved pure from 39 yards.
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I half expected Drinkwitz to order a first-down field goal to send the game into a second overtime, but this time he opted for six points instead of three.
Nathaniel Peat rushed into the end zone in Missouri’s second overtime game, but as he reached for the goal line, the ball dropped like a lead weight.
Auburn recovered in the end zone.
Few teams have stood taller for a beleaguered coach than Missouri has for Harsin.
And to think that it will soon be available for rent.
Coaching shenanigans, part II
Florida would have had an opportunity for a game-changing field goal on their last possession on Saturday if Billy Napier had picked extra points after two touchdowns in the fourth quarter in place of two-point conversion attempts that failed.
But that wasn’t Napier’s only coaching decision, which proved costly in Tennessee’s 38-33 win.
TOPPMEYER:Tennessee football finds catharsis as Florida Gators keep Hendon Hookers Vols calm
Tennessee faced a third and ten from his 12-yard line with the clock running and 1:33 left at halftime. Napier took advantage of Florida’s final time out hoping to force a punt with enough time to score.
He should have waited for the outcome of Tennessee’s third-down game before deciding to stop the clock. The Vols returned from the time-out throw.
Hendon Hooker’s 10-yard finish moved the chains. Seven games later, the Vols were in the end zone with seven seconds left at halftime.
HENDON HOOKER FOR HESIMAN?:How the Tennessee quarterback embarked on the hunt for top honors
Another bad move.
Three and out
1. When Cam Little’s successful field goal for Arkansas bounced off the top of Saturday’s upright, my first thought was, “Huh, I’ve never seen that.” However, Wyoming missed a field goal in an identical manner earlier this season. college kicker! Texas A&M beat Arkansas 23-21 despite being outplayed and overplayed. The Aggies’ offense remains a thorn in their side, but Devon Achane makes it worth watching.
2. The winner of Saturday’s undefeated No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Ole Miss duel should be considered a contender for the College Football Playoffs. Each team’s schedule is relatively generous by SEC standards, and with no clear frontrunner for the No. 4 playoff spot, it’s reasonable to think that UK or Ole Miss could make their way through the as a one-loss team back door could pave. Kentucky will need a star running back Chris Rodriguez’s return to improve their dormant ground game.
3. A month into the season it’s too early for any serious Heisman debate, so I’ll offer my pecking order and come back in a couple of weeks. I’m only one quarterback so far: 1st CJ Stroud (Ohio State), 2nd Hendon Hooker (Tennessee), 3rd Stetson Bennett IV (Georgia), Honorable Mentions: Bryce Young (Alabama), Michael Penix Jr. (Washington).
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