With the perfect target, Division I-AA Eastern Illinois, visiting Faurot Field, Gary Pinkel finally changed some of the streaks Missouri fans would rather forget.
The Tigers' 37-0 win not only gave Pinkel his first shutout as Missouri coach, it also gave Missouri its first 3-0 start since 1981.
"Yeah, yeah," Pinkel said. "But 4-0 is bigger."
With the offense struggling to get going for the better part of the game, this was a day for the Missouri defense and special teams. Missouri had two blocked punts, forced three fumbles and had an interception, giving the Tigers great field position all afternoon.
Taking advantage of that field position, though, is something that took more than 28 minutes for the Tigers to get down. Missouri went three-and-out on two of its first three possessions, and didn't gain more than 36 yards on any possession until the second half.
"It's frustrating, man," center A.J. Ricker. "Everyone's frustrated at everyone."
Then the defense made a play to get the offense on track. With four minutes left in the first half, Quincy Wade and David Overstreet popped the ball out of Panthers running back Andre Raymond's hands, and Jason Simpson jumped on it at the Eastern Illinois 36.
Then the ball went to Zack Abron six of the next eight plays. Abron, who had 123 total yards of the day, had a reception on a screen pass and five runs up the middle, the last one a 5-yard touchdown run with 1:41 left in the half. The Tiger offense finally came together.
"I'm happy we stuck together," Ricker said.
The Tigers' point parade followed Abron's touchdown. Eastern Illinois went three-and-out on its next possession, and Josh Hibbets had the first of his two blocked punts on the day to give the Tigers the ball again on the Panther 27.
"Blocked punts change football games," Pinkel said. "Your chances of winning go up dramatically if you can block punts. They just are huge turnovers."
Smith hit Thomson Omboga to get the ball to the 4. Then Smith took a play out of the Justin Gage playbook and threw a jump ball to Sean Coffey for the touchdown with 11 seconds left.
"That was a Sean Coffey catch," Smith said. "He's gonna blow up, and I'm really excited about it."
In the second half, the Tigers started opening up the offense and going for deep passes. After two relatively conservative games, Missouri tried the deep pass more often. Even if most of the passes sailed over the receivers' heads, it made the rest of the offense easier.
"It opens up their eyes and puts them on their heels," receiver Darius Outlaw said. "When a team sees you beat them, it opens up the field for the running game. Then the running game opens up the field for the passing game. Then Bradley (Smith) opens up, and it's a good game after that."
After he suffered a minor concussion in last week's game against Ball State, Smith was more cautious with his running on Saturday. He ran five times for 35 yards.
Smith would throw for one more touchdown, a pass over the middle to Omboga, and he finished the day 26-of-33 for 236 yards. He threw a 34-yard pass to Marcus James in the second half, his longest on the season.
Abron passed Tom Whelihan and Brock Olivo to jump into second place on MU's all-time touchdown list with a 25-yard touchdown run in the second half.
Hibbetts, a former quarterback converted to free safety, blocked his second punt of the day in the second half and then picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone for his first Missouri touchdown.
The Tiger defense dominated the line of scrimmage, with four sacks, three batted passes and an interception. Eastern Illinois only gained 221 total yards, including only 67 yards rushing. The defense's shutout was its first since beating Bowling Green 38-0 on Sept. 5, 1998.
"The shutout is the icing on the cake," said defensive lineman Brian Smith, who recorded his fourth sack of the season.