Missouri fans might have witnessed the start of something special Saturday during a 34-3 romp over Southeast Missouri in the season opener at Memorial Stadium.
It was a lopsided, at-times uneventful affair, as most Tigers games are against Football Championship Series competition.
Those remaining from a crowd of 64,670 — No. 24 Mizzou’s largest for a home opener since 2009 — were succumbing to the malaise brought on by 90-degree temperatures late in the third quarter when freshman quarterback Drew Lock brought the stadium back to life on only the 13th play of his college career.
Lock took a shotgun snap, scanned the field, stepped right, then bought time by rolling back to the left toward the visiting sideline.
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Suddenly, Lock stopped and planted, having spotted senior running back Tyler Hunt alone more than 50 yards away on the other side of the field, before uncorking a 78-yard touchdown pass.
“In practice, we’ll just run normal drills and I’ll overthrow Tyler,” said Lock, who was six of 10 for 138 yards and that TD. “Seeing that it was Tyler, I couldn’t be more proud to throw a touchdown in a game, but to Tyler it was pretty cool.”
It was the first career touchdown for both Lock and Hunt, who won a footrace with Redhawks cornerback Taron Divens to the pylon.
It probably won’t be Lock’s last touchdown for the Tigers.
“Drew is magic, man,” said sophomore wide receiver J’Mon Moore, who led Missouri with three catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. “When he threw that ball to Tyler Hunt, I was like, ‘What is he doing?’ Then, I look down field and I see Tyler and I’m like, ‘How did he see him?’”
Back on the sideline, Moore asked if the scrambling was purposeful to set up the defense. The two agreed Lock was setting the hook and waited for the defense to take the bait.
“He’s Mr. Magic Man …,” Moore said. “Drew does some interesting things. He’s wowed me a lot, so he’s a playmaker. … He’s definitely something special.”
Junior starting quarterback Maty Mauk was half-bad either. He finished 12 of 22 for 181 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
The result was never in doubt after Mauk capped the season’s first drive with a 27-yard bomb to Moore and added a 23-yard touchdown to sophomore Nate Brown barely 10 minutes into the new season.
Missouri’s defense made certain a quick 14-0 lead was more than enough.
In Barry Odom’s debut as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator, Southeast Missouri was limited to 201 yards and only 3.1 yards per play.
Senior linebacker Kentrell Brothers was a Redhawk-offense wrecking crew, totaling a career-high 16 tackles for a defense that allowed only a late second-quarter field goal and managed only 10 first downs in defeat.
“We talked all week about spilling, hammering plays back and spilling it out to guys, and (the defensive line) did a great job of doing what we’re supposed to do,” Brothers said. “Gap integrity is big in the run game and they made sure to be in their gaps, so that helped me out a lot.”
Brothers also blocked a third-quarter punt that junior cornerback Aarion Penton plucked from the air and returned 41 yards for a touchdown.
Southeast Missouri ran a quarterback quick kick on the game’s opening drive.
When Tay Bender lined up deep in a similar situation again, Missouri was ready.
“Barry Odom called a blitz, because we had a feeling the play before … that’s what (Redhawks coach Tom Matukewicz) was going to do,” Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said.
Brothers had coverage responsibility on a running back, who stayed in to block, and that freed him to get upfield.
“The blocked punt was an accident,” Brothers said. “I just ran up there, put my hand up and he kicked it right into it. Luckily, (Penton) was there to secure a touchdown.”
The only bad news was right ankle sprains suffered by senior running back Russell Hansbrough and senior center Evan Boehm. Neither captain played in the second half.
“Hopefully, we’re going to get them back,” Pinkel said. “I’m not sure when. We don’t know that. … (Boehm) played the first half, but he was really sore, limping around a little bit, so we just felt like it was wise to get him out.”
Missouri trainer Rex Sharp opted to pull Hansbrough — who was injured on his first carry, a 20-yard burst, and tested the ankle one more time before being relegated to a spectator’s role.
“I was kind of like, ‘Oh, crap,’” Mauk said when asked about the injuries, “but the next guy came in there and, whether it was (sophomore running back) Ish (Witter) or (sophomore left guard/center) Alec (Abeln) at center, they came in and played at a high level.”
No. 24 MISSOURI 34
SE MISSOURI 3
MU: J’.Moore 27 pass from Mauk (Baggett kick), 11:28.
MU: Brown 23 pass from Mauk (Baggett kick), 4:49.
MU: FG Baggett 39, 9:54.
SEMO: FG McCrum 35, 2:19.
MU: FG Baggett 23, 10:55.
MU: Penton 41 punt return (Baggett kick), :22.
MU: Hunt 78 pass from Lock (Baggett kick), 5:13.
Pnt/Int Ret. Yds.
Time of Possession
RUSHING: SE Missouri, Bender 14-69, Jackson 18-57, McCullough 4-18, Lloyd 1-7, Young 1-(minus 3), Stewart 4-(minus 3). Missouri, Witter 13-33, Hansbrough 2-23, Hunt 5-20, Steward 5-14, Mauk 6-8, Abbington 1-5, Lock 1-(minus 5).
PASSING: SE Missouri, Bender 12-22-0-56. Missouri, Mauk 12-22-1-181, Lock 6-10-0-138.
RECEIVING: SE Missouri, McRoberts 4-40, Jackson 3-3, McCullough 2-6, Davis 1-5, Washington 1-2, Darden-Box 1-0. Missouri, J’.Moore 3-74, Brown 3-69, Culkin 3-29, Dilosa 3-25, Hunt 1-78, Blair 1-21, E.Hall 1-9, Reese 1-5, Witter 1-5, Richard 1-4.