On Saturday night, the Missouri Tigers (5-0, 1-0) opened SEC play with a 51-28 win at Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3). The Tigers took charge from the start, and led by more than three scores for much of the night.
“I thought we played with a lot of high energy the first half,” said Coach Pinkel. “That’s what I was really pleased with our team. I thought we just let it go and played. You know, we made some mistakes, but they were full go. I’m real proud of our players, how we played. But, I don’t think we've played our best football game yet. I think we can certainly get better. But it’s exciting to be 5-0.”
Missouri senior QB James Franklin finished the night 19-28-0 (68%) for 278 yards and 4 TDs through the air (198.4 passer efficiency rating), and rushed for 63 yards on 12 carries. Franklin spread the ball around to six different Missouri receivers.
“I’m very, very proud of (James Franklin),” said Coach Pinkel. “He’s pretty good. Okay.”
The Tigers continued their success on the ground, and finished with 245 yards rushing on 43 carries. And the Missouri defense came up with 7 sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble.
Missouri got off to a fast start as James Franklin lofted a perfect 26-yard pass to L’Damian Washington near the right front pylon to cap off a 5-play 75-yard drive that put Missouri ahead 7-0 with 13:43 remaining in the 1st quarter.
The Tigers forced Vanderbilt into two three-and outs sandwiched around a Kentrell Brothers’ interception, Missouri’s 11th of the season. Meanwhile, Missouri scored on their first 6 possessions, including 3 Andrew Baggett field goals, an 11-yard TD pass from Franklin to Eric Waters, and a 5-yard scamper into the end zone by Henry Josey.
Vanderbilt got on the scoreboard with 11:04 remaining in the 2nd quarter on a 2-yard TD run by Wesley Tate that capped off a 15-play 75-yard drive that was helped considerably by a pair of personal fouls on the Missouri defense.
Missouri dominated the first half, as the Tigers took a 30-7 lead into the half-time locker room. With the exception of a kneel-down to close out the first half, Missouri had scored on each of their first-half possessions.
Vanderbilt took the 2nd-half opening kick-off and started attacking the Missouri defense underneath. The Commodores put together a 6-play 75-yard TD drive that cut the Missouri lead to 30-14 with 12:03 remaining in the 3rd quarter. Vandys’ record-setting senior WR Jordan Mathews capped off the scoring drive when he took a screen pass 26 yards up along the right side.
But Missouri answered, as Franklin drove the Tigers 75 yards on 14 plays, and Josey scored from the 1-yard line to put the Tigers up 37-14 with 7:16 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
The two squads traded touchdowns again, as Missouri closed out the 3rd quarter with a 44-21 lead.
“I was just excited with how we played,” said Coach Pinkel. “In the 3rd quarter, when they scored a touchdown, and we came back and answered with a touchdown, and they scored another touchdown, and we came back and answered with another touchdown, I thought that was pretty cool. Then we got another touchdown after that.”
Leading by more than three scores, Missouri became more and more conservative offensively, and played conservatively on defense, as well. Missouri Defensive Coordinator Dave Steckel continued to dial up soft coverages, almost a prevent defense, and he mixed in quite a bit of a 3-man front. Still, the Missouri defensive front was able to put pressure on Vandy’s fifth-year senior QB Austyn Carta-Samuels.
Early in the 4th quarter, a too conservative offensive series resulted in Missouri’s first punt of the night, and Vanderbilt struck quickly, with a pair of long completions, the first a 45-yarder on a jump ball to Mathews, and the second a 35-yard completion down the left hash to senior WR Jonathan Krause for the TD, to cut Missouri’s lead to 44-28 with 9:22 remaining.
But Missouri recovered the on-side kick, and in one play, a 42-yard pass completion for a TD from Franklin to Washington, the Tigers were ahead 51-28 with 9:13 remaining.