Poor Murray State. That is all I could really think going into the game. And, by time the game was over, it is what many thought.
Missouri was ready to let out a year worth of frustration in the season opener Saturday. And, after a shaky first quarter, they did just that – scoring 45 straight points after trailing 14-13, led by the new-look Missouri offense rolling the Racers defense for 700 yards in the 58-14 blowout in front of 58,000 at Faurot Field tonight.
It is hard to hard to take a lot away from a win over a FCS team, but a few things are evident – the offense is going to be good, and the defense may struggle.
The offense was simply dominant, rolling up nearly 350 yards rushing AND passing and the second best offensive total in school history. The effort was led by two guys who have overcame a lot to be where they were tonight – QB No. 1 James Franklin and running back Henry Josey. Franklin finished 28-36 for 324 yards and three scores (164.8. rating), adding six runs for 44 yards in what he said was only “20-30 percent of the offense” and Josey – playing for the first time in just over 21 months – ran for 113 yards on 13 carries, capping off his night and showing everyone that he is indeed back with a 68-yard, flying down the sideline touchdown run.
Here is another look at it:
Aside from the blowout win, Josey’s successful return is the biggest story, and it was great to see.
“I looked up and I thanked God,” Josey said. “I was pretty much screaming at him. I hope he heard me. I was waiting on that moment the whole game.”
Josey, when he blew out in his knee in Nov. 2011 in a win over Texas, was fifth in the nation in rushing. Some said he would never play again. Now he’s back – and blowing past defenders who have angles like his old self.
“There’s a little nervousness about getting back out there and wondering if you can actually do it again,” Josey admitted. “But then I just went out there and just had fun with my teammates. I just kept having fun the whole game.”
“I’ll just remember just running back out there with my teammates,” he said. “That was probably the happiest moment ever.”
And, for the first time in head coach Gary Pinkel’s coaching career, he gave the game ball to a player. Pinkel said he saw Josey give team trainer Rex Sharp and physician/surgeon Pat Smith a hug on the sideline and got idea to give him game ball then.
“It was our gift to him for all he’s been through,” Pinkel said.
See for yourself.
And Pinkel on the team running down the sideline to greet Josey after the run, “by the way, that’s illegal. It should have been a penalty.”
It was cool though to find out that the refs were aware of the situation and refrained.
“That run is in the past now,” Josey added. “I’m focused on the future and winning games.”
Franklin wasn’t perfect, but made very few mistakes and looked great running the new up-tempo offense with the shades of the Chase Daniel days, running 3.4 plays per minute through three quarters, when Missouri called off the dogs. Franklin went into the locker room 20-29 for 240 yards and two TD.
“I’m a James Franklin fan,” Pinkel added. “I think he can have a really great year. He was very poised.”
His road to redemption started tonight – and it was his most complete game since 2011, where he gained nearly 4,000 total yards with 36 TD. If he gets anywhere close to that this year, Missouri fans will be pleased – and the Tigers will win plenty of games.
There was only one designed run for Frankin – a third and one QB sneak – but, Franklin had a 37-yard run on a zone read and another 10-yard scramble. Pinkel said he would limit Franklin’s designed runs, but Franklin will be effective in the zone-read game and when pass protection breaks down or receivers are not open.
This was Franklin’s third career 300-yard passing game. The other two (Arizona St and Baylor in 2011) were losses.
Maty Mauk made his first appearance late in the second quarter, playing two plays and completing his first collegiate pass – an 11-yarder to Bud Sasser, before coming out of the game, and returning to run three possessions in the third/early fourth quarter, finishing 2-of-13 for 18 yards. Pinkel said he wanted to get him into the game earlier, but the game didn’t dictate that. Pinkel added that Mauk played just two plays because he wanted Franklin’s experience for the third down.
Redshirt senior Jaleel Clark entered the game with one career catch and led the team in that category with five tonight, playing much more than I thought he would. He was a regular in Missouri’s five-man rotation at WR.
“Here’s a guy that never complains, never moans and groans about how he should be playing hard,” Pinkel said. “He’s a company man. Always works hard. It’s a great visual aid for our whole football team.”
In all, Missouri played eight receivers with the first team offense and 11 guys caught a pass. One of the three “other guys” – Texas transfer Darius White – had two catches for 44 yards on a 3-play scoring drive following a three and out from the Missouri defense to open the second half, sandwiched around Franklin’s 37-yard run, ending it with a 37-yard TD – his first since Nov. 5, 2011 (the same date as Josey’s last TD). He had just 71 career receiving yards at Texas.
Some other offensive changes – no empty backfield, more, regular use of the tight end, the pistol formation and a quicker, no-huddle tempo – were as advertised. TE Sean Culkin started and played most of the snaps as a true, attached to the line tight end. He caught his first career pass from Franklin for a first down in the second quarter (on the same drive that redshirt freshman Levi Copelin hauled in his first pass) Eric Waters, last year’s starter, also caught a pass that set-up Missouri inside the 10, in what was Franklin’s final drive, that ended with a 4-yard TD pass to L’Damian Washington at the front pylon to give Missouri a 44-14 lead. The pistol was used plenty, and back-up running back Russell Hansbrough, who Pinkel called the real deal, was the beneficiary, ripping off two long runs – including a 51-yard TD – running for 101 yards on six carries and two TD’s in the first quarter alone. He finished as one of two Missouri backs with 100 yards, finishing with 104 on eight touches. Missouri ran 89 plays, slowing the tempo down big time as they ran out the clock in the second half.
Missouri still featured Marcus Murphy in the backfield, and he showcased his speed, rushing for 56 yards in seven carries, adding a second quarter score that put Missouri up 27-14. You know what’s better than two good running backs? Three. In all, Missouri played five scholarship backs – including redshirt freshman Morgan Steward – and six total in rushing for 358 yards with a 7.96 per carry average. Four of the backs (Steward) scored.
Dorial Green-Beckham, who I bet my dad would get the first touch of the game (he had Josey) was targeted early and often, something else Henson vowed to do, catching four balls for 83 yards, including a 44-yarder on the second drive of the game, followed by Hansbrough’s first TD run (he had 31 yards on three carries on the drive.) DGB also made a great one-handed catch down the sideline in the redzone, which did not count. That was followed by a Marcus Lucas one-handed catch over the middle. Bud Sasser caught two balls on the first three plays of the game, fumbling away the second one and Jimmie Hunt scored a nice 22-yard TD on fake-screen to DGB following a EJ Gaines interception with 11 minutes, 22 seconds to go in the second quarter, putting the Tigers back up, 20-14, starting a run of 45 straight. This is a very deep and talented group.
“I thought we played catch, overall, well,” Pinkel said. “If you don’t play catch well — the guys are open, get the ball to them, not only make the routine catch, but a tough catch every now and then — we really played catch well. When Mizzou is not stopping Mizzou, it’s neverending trying to get better and better at that.”
The offensive line was a train wreck last year. It was anything tonight. Runners had huge holes, Franklin had little pressure and plenty of time to pass – two things that were not there last year against a FCS team in the season opener. With speedy backs, the huge holes will be mammoth for the Missouri running game. Also, sophomore center Evan Boehm had just one low snap in his first game since moving over from left guard – better than last year’s 4-5 poor snaps a game.
I truly believe that the offense will be really, really good if Franklin remains healthy this year. And, it may have to be, as the defense could really have some issues. That was evident in the first quarter and a half, where Murray St. QB Maikhail Miller – an Ole Miss transfer – torched the Missouri defense.
Pinkel said they “hardly knew anything” about Miller, who joined the program in July. And it showed, as that defense was horrid in the first 20 minutes – but dominant over the last 40 after D Coordinator Dave Steckel ripped some ass on the sideline following Murray State (0-1) scoring two touchdowns and missing a field goal in their first three drives, racking up 196 yards on 30 plays as it led 14-13. Had 101 yards on 45 plays rest of game. In fact, Murray State gained just 19 yards in the second half. After their two scores, the Racers had three turnovers and eight punts over their last 11 possessions.
The two biggest concerns heading into the season were the tackles up front in the middle, and the back end of the defense, minus All-Conference EJ Gaines. The DT’s made some plays late, but did not have an impact on the game. This certainly has to improve. Gaines carried the secondary with two picks – one off a deflection and another when the receiver fell down. They did not throw his way often – and most teams will follow suit. So, it will come down to the rest of the secondary. Safety Matt White was pretty much awful for most of the game and will likely lose his spot to JUCO transfer Duron Singleton at some point this season. The Tigers most experienced safety Braylon Webb made some nice plays and picked off a pass as part of the Tigers three INT night – just four less than they had all of last year…AS A TEAM. He had another pick returned it all the way back to the 1-yard-line, but it was negated by a holding call before the throw in a drive that ended with Murray St’s second TD and brief lead. For the most part, the Racers did not go deep and dinked and dunked and the Tigers gave them the short stuff. The back four has to get better. Its tough to judge how good they really are against the team they went up against.
The defensive ends and linebackers are the Tigers projected strengths on the defensive side of the ball – and were tonight. Middle linebacker Andrew Wilson, who was absent at times as he was not on the field in the nickel packages, continued to have a nose for the ball, outside linebacker and first-year starter Kentrell Brothers showed off his speed and athleticism, including some big hits and a sack, Michael Sam had seven tackles and two tackles for loss and Kony Ealy deflected two passes and had a pressure that resulted in a Webb interception.
Corner Aarion Penton and defensive tackle Josh Augusta were the only true freshman Pinkel and staff played. Pinkel singled out Augusta, the 321-pounder (who Pinkel said they want to be at 315), much like he did in fall camp: “He did some really good things as a young player. We have a lot of competition there. Kind of neat to see. A game like that gets you some confidence. He’s got good size, excellent movement, change of direction for a big guy.” Augusta logged two tackles for loss (one sack).
- Kicker Andrew Baggett’s field goal’s and extra point’s are going to be an adventure this year. Baggett missed an easy 30-yard field goal in the second quarter and had an extra point blocked, but he did drill a 42-yard field goal to end the first half to send Missouri to the locker room with a 30-14 lead and had eight touchbacks. “The strength of his leg, as a young player, are getting better. He’s got a good leg, he’s a good kicker, we just need more consistency out of the positions. Kickoffs are awesome. He just has to be more consistent in practice, then he’ll be more consistent in games.” – Pinkel
- The pace in the first half was insane – 103 total plays in the first half (3.4 plays per minute). Missouri gained 428 yards of offense in the first half in 56 plays (Murray St 256 yards, 5.6 yards per play.) FIFTY-SIX first-half plays, Good Lord. “We’re doing a lot of things on offense that we didn’t show today. We had success, did some good things. What it allows us to do is some play-action passes, roll out, pocket passes. Takes a little pressure off the offensive line. The tempo thing worked well. We want that to be a part of who we are. We’ve got to improve on it, but I think we’ve made some strides.” – Pinkel.
- Six of Missouri’s first seven scoring drives were under a minute. Their first three touchdown drives took a combined 129 seconds.
- Josey is now tied for sixth in career 100-yard games at Mizzou. He’s one of seven players with eight. Brock Olivo’s next to catch at nine, then Devin West, Zack Abron, and Joe Moore at 11. He has some work to do to catch Brad Smith at 18. So we’ll say the odds of him finishing second are pretty good.
- Future Mizzou opponents went 7-4 last week. Two of the four losses came to other future Mizzou opponents.
- Hansbrough did not have a second half touch after his HUGE first half.
- Hunt now has six TD’s (four receiving, one rushing and one return) in just 25 touches.
- Pinkel said the defense improved when they started stunting the defensive line to take Miller’s running ability up the middle away.
- Considering Missouri’s injury history the past two years, it was great to see them escape injury free: “We’re 1-0 and we’re healthy,” Pinkel said.
Up Next: Missouri hosts Toledo Saturday, 2:30 at Faurot (ESPNU). Toledo (0-1) lost at Florida in its season opener, 24-6. Remember, Pinkel led the Toledo program for 10 years before coming to Missouri to turn around a program that had went to two bowl games in 16 years.
“One of my goals when I went to Toledo, I wanted all three of my kids to graduate from the same high school,” Pinkel added. “That is why I stayed there so long. That was real important for me to do that. When I had other opportunities, I didn’t do that for specifically that reason. I kind of accomplished that goal. I’ve never been a job looker. I went to Toledo, we built the program from the beginning, we did it our way. We built our program there. We’re building this like we’re going to be there forever. I’m not looking for other jobs. Never have been. I just want to keep building our program and get better.
“Some people I was crazy for coming to Missouri,” Pinkel added. “A lot of people told me I was crazy, shouldn’t do it. But I took a stab at it.”
He continued: “Toledo is a real good football program. Got a good tradition there. I know a little bit about it. It’s not really sentimental. It’s a competition – it’s a football game. But, it’s a great place to live. I’m always rooting for Toledo, I’m always rooting for Washington. Except if we play them.”
That is the case this week.
“They have done such a great job historically there, and I think the players there have great pride in who they are and where they’re from,” Pinkel said. “Any athlete that plays there has great pride. And they should.”
On Toledo’s performance against Florida: “Very competitive, they’ve got some good athletes, and they played, obviously, a great football team,” said Pinkel, who said he watched some of the Toledo-Florida game live, then rewatched it on film.
“We’ve got a big game against Toledo this week,” Pinkel declared. “With all the big teams they have beaten, you think they’re scared about coming in here and playing an SEC team? They’re not.”
- A win would give Mizzou its first 2-0 start since 2010, as strange as that sounds. The Tigers lost at Arizona State in Week 2 in 2011, then of course dropped the SEC opener to Georgia in Week 2 last season.
- It’s been 22 seasons, since Gary Pinkel’s head coaching career began at Toledo. It’s been 12 since he left. And he’s got two wins to go to catch Dan Devine for second all-time in wins at Mizzou.
- And it couldn’t be a Mizzou post without a Michael Sam quote. He delivered another great one, “If they pass, I feel sorry for them, because me Kony Ealy and Matt Hoch are going to get sacks all night.” Fantastic.
MUtigers.com: Franklin, Josey Lead Tigers to 58-14 Opening Rout
MUtigers.com: Mizzou/Murray State Post-Game Notes
MUtigers.com: Mizzou/Murray State Post-Game Quotes
The Trib (Behind the Stripes): Tigers blow out Racers, 58-14, behind strong performance from Franklin
The Trib: After slow start in season opener, Tigers speed past Racers
The Missourian: A slow start, but Missouri cruises to victory over Murray State
KC Star: Murray State game not a painful victory for Tigers
KC Star: MU-Murray State game report
Post-Dispatch: Explosive start for Tigers
PowerMizzou: Out of the gates
The Missourian: #MIZZOUGAMEDAY VIDEO | For Tigers fan, ‘camaraderie’ at every home game
The Missourian: PHOTO GALLERY: Tailgaters enjoy pregame action
The Missourian: PHOTO GALLERY: Missouri crushes Murray State
PowerMizzou: Game Day Gallery
Mizzou Network: Highlights: Mizzou wins big against Murray State
Mizzou Network: Regions Bank Post Game: Gary Pinkel Murray State Post-Game Interview
Mizzou Network: Regions Bank Post Game: Henry Josey after Murray State
Mizzou Network: Regions Bank Post Game: James Franklin after win over Murray St
Mizzou Network: Regions Bank Post Game: EJ Gaines after win over Murray St
The Trib: Cool story is highlight of hot night
The Missourian: Missouri fans brave heat to tailgate before Murray State game
The Missourian: Memorial Stadium’s hydration efforts get mixed reviews
The Maneater: Fans brave the heat to tailgate