Columbia, Mo -- Ball State was in a position to pull an upset Saturday night, but the Cardinals, down only one at halftime, let the ball and the game slip through their fingers in the third quarter.
The Cardinals (0-1) started the game strong against the favored Missouri Tigers (2-0) by scoring first and playing solid defense. According to head coach Bill Lynch, though, second half turnovers caused Ball State to lose their upset bid.
Ball State lost two fumbles in the third quarter alone -- four in the game -- and Missouri capitalized on both of them. Ball State turnovers led to 20 Missouri points, while the Tigers didn't turn the ball over once.-á-á-á-á-á
"It is extremely difficult to win if we have five turnovers and we don't get them to turn it over at all," Lynch said.
Two of the fumbles came came from Cardinal running back Marcus Merriweather. In the past Lynch has called Merriweather a "rock," because of how well he holds onto the ball. Merriweather, who had 115 yards on 26 rushes, had no excuses for his fumbles, though.
"The first one was caused by the ground," Merriweather said, "but the second one, I just didn't handle it right when I got hit."
Each of Missouri's first four scoring drives took less than a minute. Lynch said the team was not surprised by their quick striking, but they could have responded better.
"We just didn't handle it well," Lynch said.
The driving force behind Missouri's lightning-quick offense was freshman Brad Smith. The quarterback ran for 105 yards on nine carries, including a 39-yard touchdown jaunt. He also had 176 yards passing and a touchdown.
"Brad makes one big play, then everything ignites," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "It is not unlike a lot of offenses. The attitude changes, everything changes."
"He's an athlete," Ball State linebacker Lorenzo Scott said of Smith. "He didn't show us (anything) that we didn't expect. He was elusive and he made us miss tackles."
Ball State made the first score of the game when Mike Langford hit a career-long 45-yard field goal on the Cardinals' first drive. Langford added a 42-yarder later in the half.
When Ball State went to the locker room at halftime, they trailed by only one, 7-6.
"We felt good at halftime," Lynch said. "(But) we were disappointed we didn't score touchdowns."
Quarterback Talmadge Hill agreed.
"We were in the football game," he said. "We were rushing the ball. Our offensive line was opening up holes. If we minimized turnovers, we'd be OK."
Ball State players said they weren't exactly sure what went wrong in the second half, but they dismissed two simple excuses: first-game jitters and game-time temperatures.
"I'm not going to use the first game excuse," Hill said. "We've been working hard, and we've had a good camp."
Merriweather, who was periodically replaced by back-up Blair Scott, said he indeed felt the near-90 degree temperatures.
"I was kind of fatigued," he said. "It was a little warmer than we expected, but they had to play too. "
Pinkel said he thought the difference was less in Ball State's errors and more in Missouri's big plays.
"Things weren't going real well the first half. All of a sudden...everything works," he said.
Lynch did give credit to the Tigers' play.
"They played hard, they executed, they made big plays," he said. "They are a very good football team."