Missouri scored on its first six possessions and buried Vanderbilt from the opening kickoff Saturday, opening its second season in the Southeastern Conference by delivering a 51-28 whooping at Vanderbilt Stadium.
“People were definitely sleeping on us, but I think we might have woke them up with this game,” senior cornerback E.J. Gaines said.
It’s a far cry from last season when an injury-riddled Tigers team limped through the SEC 2-6 and missed a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
Missouri, 5-0, raced to a 17-0 lead in the first 7 minutes, 6 seconds, silencing the Commodores’ homecoming crowd of 36,892 — well, at least those not among the estimated 8,000 Tigers fans who traveled for the game.
Quarterback James Franklin capped that first drive by dropping a long pass down the sideline perfectly between two Vanderbilt defensive backs for a 26-yard touchdown to L’Damian Washington at the 13:43 mark.
“When you can come on fire like James was today and get a touchdown, it’s good and our offense rolled all day from there,” said Washington, who finished with three catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns.
The Tigers’ defense forced a three-and-out on its first series and sophomore Andrew Baggett hammered home a 44-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead on Missouri’s next drive.
Next, sophomore linebacker Kentrell Brothers picked off Austyn Carta-Samuels, extending the Tigers’ nation-leading streak with a forced turnover to 35 consecutive games.
“I baited him into it,” Brothers said. “… I saw the running back sitting there, so I held back and sort of waited for him to throw it. Then, I just picked it off.”
Brothers returned the interception to the Vanderbilt 11, where Franklin — who completed his first nine passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns — connected with senior tight end Eric Waters for a touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
If it were a boxing match, the fight might have been stopped right there.
“We already had the momentum, but after that pick, I didn’t hear one Vanderbilt fan,” Brothers said. “All I could hear was Mizzou fans.”
Vanderbilt still hadn’t picked up a first down when Baggett added a 29-yard field goal on Missouri’s next drive.
The Commodores, 3-3, finally showed signs of life, and picked up a first down, late in the first quarter, with a 15-play touchdown march.
Wesley Tate’s 2-yard touchdown pulled Vanderbilt within 20-7 roughly 4 minutes into the second quarter, but the defense still hadn’t solved Missouri’s offense.
The Tigers marched right back down the field, restoring the 20-point lead on a 5-yard touchdown by junior Henry Josey.
Baggett, who entered the game three for six on field goals this season, kicked a 41-yard field goal in the final 2 minutes for a 30-7 halftime lead.
“We’ve got some guys making plays,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “There’s no magic out there. We’ve got guys making plays.”
Vanderbilt took the opening kickoff of the second half and cut into that lead when Carta-Samuels found wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who was limited to two catches for 8 yards before halftime, for a 26-yard touchdown.
Once again, however, Missouri’s offense answered, driving 75 yards in 14 plays before Josey’s plowed in from 1 yard out for his second touchdown and a 37-14 lead.
Missouri’s lead never dipped below 16 points the rest of the way.
“We preached starting fast this game,” Gaines said. “We didn’t really start fast against Arkansas State last week, so that was what we concentrated on — starting fast and finishing strong.”
Carta-Samuels scored on a 2-yard run in the closing minutes of the third quarter, but the Commodores’ offense had awakened too late and Missouri always had an answer.
In this case, it was Franklin, who completed 19 of 28 passes for 278 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, zipping a 15-yard touchdown between two Vanderbilt defenders to Marcus Lucas for a 44-21 lead after three quarters.
During the fourth quarter, Carta-Samuels lobbed a 35-yard touchdown to Jonathan Krause, but 9 seconds later — after a failed onside kick — Missouri responded with a 42-yard touchdown bomb to Washington.
“It feels good to be 5-0, but what’s better is 6-0,” said senior defensive end Michael Sam, who had three sacks for the second consecutive game.