Jarrell Harrison could taste it. Right there, on the tip of his tongue as the senior safety and the rest of the Missouri football team took the field at Sun Devil Stadium.
Focused on the Insight Bowl game just ahead against Iowa, ready to wipe out the memory of a humiliating Texas Bowl loss to Navy the previous season.
And then it was gone (either the bad taste or the chance to erase it -- you decide) as Missouri lost to Iowa 27-24.
The Tigers battled their way to a four-point lead heading into the final 6 minutes behind quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s best passing game of the season.
But just after Gabbert had completed his 38th pass in 51 attempts, for 418 yards, disaster struck.
Gabbert, scrambling left, threw a pass intended for West Kemp near the sideline. Kemp, meanwhile, was trying to block Iowa’s Micah Hyde so that Gabbert could tuck the ball and run.
Hyde, a cornerback, stepped up and intercepted the pass at the Iowa 28, cut across the field and raced down the far sideline 72 yards for a touchdown that put Iowa on top 27-24.
Down by two touchdowns in the first half, the Tigers rallied back, taking a 24-20 lead when Gabbert hit All-American tight end Michael Egnew with a three-yard touchdown pass with only 54 seconds left in the third quarter.
Was it that aftertaste of an embarrassing loss to Navy last Dec. 31 in the Texas Bowl that spurred the Tigers on?
“We left a little bitter about how we performed, and how we came out and made Missouri look,” Harrison said, mindful of that through every pre-Insight Bowl practice since.
“Embarrassed,” Harrison added. “No guys want that, so every practice we came out we practiced hard.”
Finally, on Tuesday night, in a game that kicked off at 9 p.m. Central time, it was time to put up or shut up about how different this bowl would be from the last.
And after falling behind 17-3, Missouri and Gabbert put up some impressive passing numbers before the half arrive with Iowa on top 17-10.
Until only 28 seconds remained of that first half, in fact, it looked as if Missouri would tie it, or at least kick a chip-shot field goal to cut it to 17-13.
Gabbert was 23 of 30 passing for 284 yards when -- on third and 10 from the Iowa 14 -- he hit Jerrell Jackson in the hands in the end zone.
The football, however, skipped out of Jackson’s grasp, into the air, and was intercepted by Iowa free safety Brett Greenwood.
Iowa running back Marcus Coker -- a battering ram at 6-foot and 230 pounds -- carried the ball 10 times in the first period and averaged a mere 2.7 yards a carry.
The Hawkeyes grabbed a 7-0 lead on the game’s opening drive, primarily because Marvin McNutt -- a receiver out of St. Louis -- beat Carl Gettis -- a cornerback out of St. Louis -- for 49 yards on a pass from Stanzi to the Missouri 13. Coker got the touchdown on a one yard run with 10 minutes, 32 seconds left in the opening period.
But it was Coker – whose previous long run this season was 26 yards – who gave Iowa its second touchdown, on the second play of the second quarter.
This one -- up the left side of the Missouri defense -- went for 62 yards. Nor did he stop there. Midway through the final quarter, Coker had set an Iowa Bowl record with 202 yards rushing.
Missouri slipped in a 23-yard by Grant Ressel between those two Iowa TDS, and Mizzou trailed 14-3.
Iowa matched that 34-yard Mike Meyer field goal at 7:28 before the break.
And then, finally, Missouri broke through.
Gabbert had been piling up the passing yards. At the end of the first quarter, he had completed eight of nine passes for 89 yards.
But on a a 9-play, 82-yard touchdown drive in a quick 2 minutes, 31 seconds, Gabbert completed five passes for 78 yards. Three went to T.J. Moe for 42 yards, another to Jerrell Jackson for 26.
Freshman running back Henry Josey got the touchdown on a 10-yard scamper off left end, on his first run of the night.
That cut the Iowa lead to a more manageable 17-10 with 4:51 left in the half.
Missouri fans also faced a put up or shut up situation.
But in the days leading up to the game, the challenge to fans issued by MU coach Gary Pinkel to boost the Tigers’ bowl reputation by traveling well seemed to have been met.
“We did Tiger Talk (Pinkel’s weekly radio show) where our team is staying,” Pinkel said of a Sunday night gathering.
“It was unbelievable. It was probably like I have never experienced before.”
It was more of the same at a Monday afternoon pep rally, attended by what was estimated to be more than 2,000 fans.
And by late Tuesday afternoon, the official Mizzou tailgate for those who had bought the premium travel package was a shoulder-to-shoulder affair.
“I think our fans are learning,” Pinkel said. “They are doing a lot of good things.”
The tickets-sold total may always remain an estimate. Missouri said it sold around 7,200 prior to the date it was required to return the rest of an 11,000-ticket allotment. Iowa officials, at that same point, estimated the Hawkeyes had sold around 6,200 tickets through the school.
Ultimately, the attendance of 53,453 set an all-time Insight Bowl attendance record in the post-season game’s 22nd year.
Missouri came into the bowl game on a three-game winning streak. Iowa came in on a three-game losing skid, having kicked out Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, its career-receptions leader, after a multi-count drug arrest and suspended its best rusher this season, Adam Robinson, for the bowl game for an unspecified reason.
On Tuesday morning, news broke of Robinson’s arrest on Monday night in Des Moines on a charge of marijuana possession.
That was the latest in a string of bad news Iowa was trying to overcome.
“You have to flush these things,” Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi said before the game. “Get onto the next thing.”
As kickoff neared, the expectation for Missouri vs. Iowa was that it would be a competitive matchup.Missouri came in ranked sixth nationally in scoring defense, giving up 15.17 points a game. Iowa came in ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense, yielding just 16.42 points a game.
The edge -- Vegas oddsmakers gave that to Mizzou -- came on offense. Stanzi obviously took the field missing two prime weapons.
Gabbert, meanwhile, seemed confident.
“Our offense is clicking,” Gabbert said. “The defense is playing extremely fast. We’re excited to go out there and play a great football team in Iowa.”