Missouri coach Barry Odom said it was the discussion of his team throughout the week.
The Tigers’ matchup with Ole Miss was going to come down to the second half. Quite frankly, it was a game to be won in the fourth quarter.
“We anticipated that happening as we went into the week,” Odom said. “Even though it was so low-scoring in the first half, I thought it was going to break open, and it did.”
Missouri’s matchup with Ole Miss got off to a slow start Saturday, but eventually the Tigers broke away in the second half to win 38-27 on homecoming.
Heading to the locker room with a 12-7 lead, the Tigers (5-1) were held to their lowest first-half point total of the year. They couldn’t generate much on the ground in the first half, tallying just 69 yards.
But their run game didn’t stay quiet for long.
A 41-yard touchdown run from Larry Rountree got Mizzou going again less than two minutes into the second half. Rountree found the end zone again with a a minute left in the third quarter for a one-yard score and finished the game with 126 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.
The Tigers also had a surprise in the ground game: redshirt junior Dawson Downing.
A former walk-on from Bishop Miege in Kansas City, Downing had the second-most rushing yards on the team Saturday: 70 on six carries. That included his first collegiate touchdown, a 54-yard romp.
“Dawson is one of the reasons that our program is moving in the direction it is,” Odom said of Downing. “He is so selfless and continues to work, and I’m proud of him and we need him to keep coming because he can help us.”
Missouri’s offense had several — and at times much-needed — sparks through the air.
Quarterback Kelly Bryant completed passes of 15 yards or more on 10 occasions Saturday, including a 17-yard scoring strike to Tyler Badie and a 49-yard pass to Badie in the third quarter. Bryant finished the night with 329 yards on 23 completions with a touchdown and an interception.
Bryant was also a week removed from taking a gruesome hit in the Tigers’ 42-10 win over Troy — he’d been wrapped up on a sack by his left leg. The tackle took him out of the second half of that game, but he returned to practice at the start of the week, despite injury concerns, and wore a brace on his left leg Saturday night.
Odom praised Bryant’s efforts against Ole Miss, saying he “didn’t miss a beat” all week.
“Talk about a competitive son of a gun,” Odom said. “He did a heck of a job.
“It’s a little amazing to me that, on the injury that it was, for him to come back and not miss a rep of practice says a lot about the type of person he is,” Odom said.
Johnathon Johnson was another highlight for the Tigers’ offense. The MU wideout had 73 receiving yards on six catches in the first half but saw just three balls thrown his way after the break. One was an incompletion; the two others went for 20 and 17 yards, respectively.
Johnson finished the night with eight catches for 110 yards.
Johnson had a confusing night on special teams, though. The team’s punt returner in the wake of an injury to Richaud Floyd, he muffed the first punt of the game and gave the ball back to the Rebels. That led to the first score for Ole Miss (3-4) and got Johnson temporarily replaced on punt returns by freshman Cade Musser.
Aside from allowing Ole Miss’ four scores, the Tigers’ defense came up big at crucial points Saturday.
Missouri defensive lineman Jatorian Hansford scooped up a fumble by Ole Miss quarterback John Rhys Plumlee on a messy handoff in the first quarter. Another key stand came at the end of the first half, when Missouri kept Ole Miss out of the end zone on four consecutive plays and forced a turnover on downs at the Rebels’ 1-yard line.
Ole Miss went with a new look under center after halftime. Instead of sticking with Plumlee — which they’ve done the last couple of weeks — the Rebels alternated between Plumlee and Matt Corral, who saw his first significant playing time since a Week 3 loss to Cal.
Combined, the quarterbacks finished with 397 total yards. Plumlee scored all four of Ole Miss’ touchdowns.
Middle linebacker Cameron Wilkins said the Tigers’ defense prepared for Plumlee for the majority of the week. But he called Ole Miss’ switch to Corral a good one for the defense.
“It gave us a chance to see if we were on our toes,” Wilkins said.
The sophomore got his first start Saturday as along with junior Jamal Brook he helped replace the position of senior Cale Garrett. Garrett, a former Kearney standout, had surgery to repair a pectoral tendon injury earlier in the week.
After the game, Odom said he wanted to look at film before saying anything conclusive, but he mentioned that he’d heard mixed reviews of Wilkins and Brooks’ performance Saturday.
“You hear when they are in good shape, and there are times where we missed a read or whatever,” Odom said.
Missouri’s kicker and punter, Tucker McCann, had an up-an-down evening on special teams. The senior was dependable on field goals — he was 4-for-4 from distances of 31, 48, 39 and 38 yards — but he couldn’t seem to nail things down on PATs, going 2-for-4 on extra points and missing his first two attempts.
The Tigers will look to continue their success next week when they travel to Nashville, Tennessee, to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores at 3 p.m.