Missouri wide receiver Jerrell Jackson, left, drops a pass as Iowa State's Fred Garrin, right, defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson) By L.G. Patterson
Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander, left, slips past Iowa State's David Sims, right, after a reception during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson) By L.G. Patterson
Missouri running back Derrick Washington, right, is tackled by Iowa State's Michael O'Connell, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson) By L.G. Patterson
Iowa State's Fred Garrin falls on a Missouri fumble in front of their bench during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson) By L.G. Patterson
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- For the second straight game, Missouri surged instead of letting down in the second half. Perhaps coach Gary Pinkel finally found the right motivational strategy for a team light on experience.
The Tigers (7-4, 3-4 Big 12) enter their regular-season finale against Kansas in Kansas City with momentum after beating Iowa State 34-24 on Saturday. They overcame a seven-point halftime deficit and then pulled away from a fourth-quarter tie. After Missouri ended its three-game home losing streak, a relieved Pinkel was in a joking mood.
Maybe, he mused, he hadn't lost his touch after all. More late failures, though, and somebody else will be fielding questions at the postgame news conference.
"If you can't win those games in the fourth quarter, coach Thompson is sitting here instead of coach Pinkel," Pinkel said.
Stunned by a 17-10 halftime deficit after a turnover led to a last-minute Iowa State touchdown, Pinkel confessed he didn't know how the team would respond.
"This is a difficult business," the coach said. "If you'd asked me at halftime, I could easily explain that to you."
Missouri has found its second wind, rebounding from a series of disappointments that led to season-worst attendance of 55,573. The Tigers collapsed against Nebraska, weren't competitive against Texas and fell to two-touchdown underdog Baylor at home before finally giving fans some satisfaction against the improving Cyclones (6-6, 3-5).
"You don't want to be in the final quarter and have to win games," Pinkel said. "But those kinds of wins help you the rest of this year and next."
Danario Alexander broke Jeremy Maclin's year-old single-season record for yards receiving with 173 yards on 11 catches, his third straight game in double digits. He's proven to be Maclin's equal in terms of game breaking skills, averaging 46.3 yards on 12 touchdowns after splitting the Iowa State defense on a 63-yard score.
Sophomore Jerrell Jackson shook off a fumble that led to a touchdown in the final minute of the first half that put Iowa State ahead with a career day, catching a 70-yard touchdown pass and totaling eight receptions for 142 yards. Jackson totaled 24 catches with a 10.9-yard average and one TD the first 10 games, and stepped up after Jared Perry (broken leg) was injured last week.
Alexander has seven of Missouri's eight longest plays this season, and now Jackson is on the list at No. 5.
"They're just saying 'Don't wait on Danario to make the plays, just make plays myself,"' Jackson said.
Missouri had season bests for total yards (539), yards rushing (203) and carries (50) despite losing tailback Derrick Washington to a concussion in the second quarter. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the backup tailbacks picked up the slack and De'Vion Moore's 1-yard score with 4:43 to go was the clincher.
"That last touchdown, making it a two-score game, it changes everything," Pinkel said.
The defense, most vulnerable on a pair of trick plays that resulted in touchdowns, held Iowa State to 4-for-13 on third down conversions. The Cyclones were shut down in the fourth quarter, totaling 21 yards.
"The trick plays, they caught us off guard," linebacker Andrew Gachkar said. "But we bounced back."
There's one more chance to impress against the fading Jayhawks and their coach on the hot seat, Mark Mangino, before bowl bids go out. Players were already gearing up for Kansas, which has lost six in a row after falling 51-20 at Texas on Saturday night.
Iowa State wound up its regular season at .500 a week after becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2005, huge progress for a school that went 2-10 last year.
"If you'd polled people across the country at the beginning of the year whether or not Iowa State would have six wins, I don't think you'd have very many people on the 'yes' side of that," first-year coach Paul Rhoads said. "Absolutely, we deserve to go to a bowl game."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)