With 4:22 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Toledo pulled to within 23-24 when sophomore WR Alonzo Russell feigned a block, then utilized a double move to get behind the Missouri defense for a 41-yard TD reception on a pass from senior QB Terrance Owens.
But Missouri came right back with a 10-play 75-yard drive that closed out the 3rd quarter with a 1-yard TD run by Henry Josey.
Less than five minutes into the 4th quarter, the Tigers scored again, this time an 8-yard run by Marcus Murphy that capped off another 10-play drive, and Missouri had survived a considerable challenge from Head Coach Gary Pinkel’s former team.
“I think it was a great win,” said Coach Pinkel. “It’s awesome! We’re 2-0.”
“(Toledo) is a good football team,” continued Coach Pinkel, who had signaled for his team to take a knee on first and goal from the Toledo 6-yard line to run out the clock at the end of the game. “I said that coming in. They’re going to win a lot of games.”
Coach Pinkel wasn’t pleased with everything that he’d seen from his team, as he enumerated several issues with Missouri’s kicking game, for example, but he was very pleased to get the win, his 92nd as the head coach of the Missouri Tigers.
“There were some kicking mistakes that were very disturbing to me,” explained Coach Pinkel. “There’s other things, obviously, that were mistakes that we made. We had trouble with the perimeter screens on defense. We had a lot of trouble with that.”
That was Toledo senior running back David Fluellen, who rushed for 111 yards on 17 carries, and who caught 10 screen passes for another 100 yards, and accounted for over half of the Rockets’ 387 yards of total offense. But, that wasn’t enough on this day for Toledo, largely because Missouri won the turnover battle 3-1, and because the Rockets kept settling for field goals instead of touchdowns.
Credit Missouri’s defense for coming up with 3 interceptions, and for holding Toledo out of the end zone on 3 of the Rockets’ 4 red zone opportunities.
Toledo Head Coach Matt Campbell and his staff decided to overload their defense against the run, which forced Missouri to rely on James Franklin’s passing, and later, his running.
Credit Franklin for answering the Rockets’ field goals with touchdown drives for Mizzou. On the day, Franklin finished 16-25-1 for 212 yards (8.48 yards/attempt) and 1 TD through the air (140.43 pass efficiency). Franklin also picked up 77 yards on the ground on 17 carries, many of which were intelligent decisions to scramble out of a pass play. He also picked up key first downs with his legs on designed runs, including a fourth-down conversion on Missouri’s final scoring drive that drove a big nail in the Toledo coffin.
In spite of the defensive attention they received, Missouri’s trio of tailbacks finished with 114 yards and 3 TDs rushing on 27 carries (4.2 yards/carry). Prior to Franklin's final kneel-down on first-and-goal from the six, Missouri converted 4-of-5 red zone opportunities into touchdowns.
L’Damian Washington (78 yards) and Dorial Green-Beckham (51 yards) each finished with 5 receptions, and Green-Beckham was the recipient of Franklin’s lone TD pass, a back-shoulder fade in the front left corner of the end zone.
Three different Missouri players recorded the first interception of their career, including safeties Matt White and Ian Simon, and DE Marcus Golden. As Golden rushed the passer in the 3rd quarter, Owens bobbled the ball and Golden picked it out of the air and continued to run past the QB 70 yards all of the way to the end zone. White’s interception on a ball that was tipped into the air by E.J. Gaines closed out the first half and turned Toledo away empty-handed following a first-and-goal opportunity. Simon’s 4th-quarter pick was the final nail in the coffin for Toledo.
"The ball just fell in my hand," said Golden, who pointed out that he was a 2,00-yard running back in high school.
Gaines led the Missouri defense in tackles (8), and Simon and Randy Ponder each contributed a pair of pass-break-ups. Andrew Wilson was penalized and ejected from the game early in the 3rd quarter for an illegal hit above the shoulders.
But at the end of the day, it was a win. And, a win is a win.
“Every game is big,” explained Coach Pinkel. “We just got to get better. We’ve got to improve and get better………………………………………………….. We’ve just got to clean things up, you know, little things…………………………………………. We’re 2-0, but we’ve got to get better.”