There was a brief stretch midway through the first half when Missouri did everything it could to keep the Hoosiers in the game Saturday at Indiana’s Memorial Stadium.
But after scoring two touchdowns two minutes apart — a 1-yard run by quarterback James Franklin and defensive end Kony Ealy’s 49-yard interception return — late in the second quarter, the Tigers never looked back in a 45-28 rout.
“We’re a better football team now than we were a few weeks ago, and that’s good,” said coach Gary Pinkel, who now has 93 wins, tying Dan Devine for the second-most in program history.
Missouri’s defense led the way, bottling up an Indiana offense that had averaged 50 points per game through three games.
The Tigers started strong, allowing only 74 yards on 20 plays — a meager 3.7-yard average — in the first quarter before Indiana gashed Missouri for 190 yards in the second quarter.
With senior linebacker Andrew Wilson returning from suspension at halftime, the Tigers switched from a 4-2-5 to a “30” defense with a three-man front that baffled the Hoosiers, who managed only 23 yards on 15 plays in the third quarter as Missouri pulled away to the disappointment of the 49,149 on hand.
“We came in with pride knowing a lot of people through (it would be a shootout),” senior cornerback E.J. Gaines said. “As a defense, that’s never a good thing. We made sure we were going to come out here and compete and it wasn’t going to be a game like that.”
Missouri, 3-0 for the first time since 2010, struck first after Pinkel opted for a field-goal fake midway through the first quarter on fourth-and-3 at the Indiana 18.
Holder Braylon Webb, a junior who also starts at strong safety, tucked the ball and gained three yards before Hoosiers junior Jake Reed brought him down with a horse-collar tackle.
After the penalty, the Tigers’ offense was back in business at the Hoosiers’ 7, and Franklin connected with sophomore wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham for a touchdown on the next play.
Marcus Murphy pumped Missouri’s lead to 14-0 with a 10-yard touchdown run with 1 minute, 34 seconds remaining in the first quarter. It was his third consecutive game with a rushing score.
Missouri’s lead might have been even bigger had it not been for three turnovers. Hoosiers’ fifth-year safety Greg Heban, who picked off Franklin twice deep in Indiana territory on deep throws intended for senior wide receiver Marcus Lucas.
The turnover bug bit again early in the second quarter when Lucas got the ball ripped from his arms by Indiana linebacker Marcus Oliver at the Hoosiers’ 37.
“I lost focus trying to get that extra yard, and it cost me,” said Lucas, who atoned by catching 10 passes for 101 yards. “I felt horrible about it, especially when they went down and scored after it.”
Wide receiver Cody Latimer’s 10-yard touchdown from Nate Sudfeld got Indiana on the board and, after a Missouri punt, the Hoosiers drew even on Tevin Coleman’s 2-yard touchdown run.
Missouri then reasserted itself on both sides of the ball.
Franklin, who completed 32 of 47 passes for a career-high 343 yards, led a 75-yard touchdown march that put the Tigers back in front on his first rushing touchdown since the 2011 Independence Bowl, when he was the MVP as a sophomore in a victory against North Carolina.
Six plays into the Hoosiers’ next drive, junior defensive end Kony Ealy made a spectacular leaping interception no more than five yards after Sudfeld released it.
He then dashed 49 yards for a touchdown reminiscent of Markus Golden’s interception-return for a score against Toledo — only there was no flag for celebration as Missouri pulled in front 28-14 entering halftime.
“It was a stunt to the outside, and the opportunity was there,” Ealy said.
Sophomore kicker Andrew Baggett tacked on a 31-yard field goal in the third quarter, while the lead grew to 38-14 on the second play of the fourth quarter — a 14-yard touchdown from Franklin to senior L’Damian Washington.
One play after becoming the 19th player in Indiana history with 100 career catches, junior Shane Wynn burned Missouri for a 68-yard touchdown from quarterback Tre Roberson, which made it 38-20 with 11:24 remaining after a failed two-point conversion.
Russell Hansbrough, who finished with 13 carries for 104 yards, added a 45-yard touchdown with 2:14 left before Indiana tacked on a purely cosmetic touchdown on a 3-yard Roberson run and added a two-point conversion.