On Saturday, the Missouri Tigers (3-2, 0-2) came away with a hard-earned 21-16 non-conference road win over the Central Florida Knights (2-2).
"I always tell my players that it's hard to win," said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel. "A lot of things can happen in games, and you just have to battle through them and compete."
The game turned out to be a tale of two halves, as UCF rode 283 yards of total offense to a 10-7 half time lead, but Missouri made strategic halftime defensive adjustments that allowed the Tigers to limit UCF to just 131 yards of total offense and 6 points in the second half.
Meanwhile, Missouri endured several bad snaps and four dropped passes in the first half that limited the Tigers to just 149 yards of total offense before intermission. Dorial Green-Beckham accounted for 80 yards of that total on a 2nd quarter catch and run for a TD that was Green-Beckham's first touchdown of his career, and the longest TD pass of James Franklin's career.
After finishing the first half with a minus five yards rushing, Missouri's offensive staff made adjustments that resulted in 104 yards and 1 TD rushing on 19 carries on the game for senior TB Kendial Lawrence, almost all of it in the second half, including some tough yards, and a lot of yards that he got on his own. James Franklin finished the day 19-30-1 for 257 yards and 1 TD through the air.
But, it was Marcus Murphy's 66-yard 3rd-quarter punt return for a TD that put Missouri ahead to stay. That gives Murphy 3 punt returns for TDs this season, which leads the country, and is a single-season school record, and ties Jeremy Maclin for the school's career record.
"We battled," said Coach Pinkel. "We obviously made some plays. The defense played really, really well………………………………………… Obviously, the big punt return by Marcus Murphy was huge!"
Once again, the Missouri defense played well. The Tigers gave up a lot of yardage in the first half, but held UCF to just 10 first-half points, thanks to a goal line stand which included a Michael Sam sack that ended the half. In the pivotal 3rd quarter, Missouri surrendered just one first down.
E.J. Gaines was outstanding, as he led Missouri with 13 tackles, including 2 TFLs, 1 forced fumble, and 1 PBU. Will Ebner added 12 tackles, including 3 TFLs, 2 QBHs, and a 1 PBU. Sheldon Richardson was outstanding, as well, as the big man made 9 tackles, including 2 TFLs, 1 sack, 2 QBHs, and a fumble recovery.
In addition to the dropped passes and the poor snaps, the Missouri offense was plagued by an offensive line that struggled at the line of scrimmage. Franklin's play was particularly impressive considering that he had very little time to throw the football, and that he was sacked five times on the game.
"We'll learn from this one, and try to get better," said Coach Pinkel. "The good news is that it's a lot more fun learning from it when you get a win."
Passing – James Franklin, 19-for-30, 257 yards, TD, INT
Rushing – Kendial Lawrence, 19 car, 104 yards, TD
Receiving – Dorial Green-Beckham, 1 rec, 80 yards, TD
Passing – Blake Bortles, 29-for-43, 267 yards, 2 TD
Rushing – Storm Johnson, 15 car, 93 yards
Receiving – J.J. Worton, 5 rec, 56 yards