What does a Missouri homecoming pregame look like?
Marching Mizzou band member Tim O’Sullivan proposed to his girlfriend, Brianne Wright, on the field as thousands of fans cheered him along, followed by former Tiger Markus Golden leading an “M-I-Z” chant and banging on Big Mo. Good vibes were abundant in Memorial Stadium, giving Missouri’s homecoming a great start.
The game itself started off even better.
Missouri forced a punt on Memphis’ opening drive, which was botched by Adam Williams to keep the ball in Memphis territory. Just 57 seconds later, a two-yard rush from Larry Rountree III gave Missouri a quick 7-0 lead.
On the next two Memphis drives, Christian Holmes intercepted a screen pass for a pick-six and Missouri forced another punt before going up 21-0 on a 14-yard Damarea Crockett touchdown run.
Memphis (4-4) managed to cut Missouri’s (4-3) lead to as little as four in the second quarter, but an air assault led by Drew Lock powered the home team to a season-high 646 yards and a 65-33 homecoming victory.
“For us to do our part to send the alumni away with a win, I’m happy for that,” head coach Barry Odom said. “Our team offensively (was) able to do enough with some one-on-one matchups, the vertical passing game, the ability to run the ball... they took control of the game.”
Holmes was the star of the first quarter defensively for Missouri. Although he recorded just the single interception on the pick-six, he realistically could have had three interceptions through the first three Memphis drives.
The first came on a pass break up that bounced off Holmes hands to force the first punt. After finally getting the interception on the second drive, Holmes’ man was targeted once again, but Holmes couldn’t pull down the over-the-shoulder grab with his left hand.
“That one interception probably made me play from, instead of really bad, to just bad,” the humble Holmes said. “Honestly, I had a bad game, so that one interception really helped me out. Maybe I won’t get that much heat in the film room.”
If Holmes was Missouri’s strength, penalties were by far its weakness.
Just before Holmes’ second pass breakup, Missouri had forced a three-and-out on an incomplete pass by Memphis’ Brady White. Tre Williams, though, got flagged for a clearly late roughing the passer penalty, gifting Memphis a first down that turned into a field goal.
At the end of the quarter, a holding penalty on Holmes in the secondary and an illegal hands to the face call on DeMarkus Acy brought Memphis into Missouri territory. A one-yard run and a 30-yard pass both got Memphis into the end zone in less than five minutes of the second quarter, and just like that, Missouri’s lead was cut to four.
Lock and Odom, though, weren’t about to let the game stay close.
On fourth and one, Odom decided to go for it from Missouri’s 34, and Lock completed an 8-yard pass over the middle to Johnathon Johnson for first down. Then, on the next play, Lock found Albert Okwuegbunam wide open over the middle for a 58-yard touchdown reception.
Lock hit Jalen Knox and Okwuegbunam for two more touchdown passes and Rountree ran in his second touchdown of the half, and just as quickly as its first lead evaporated, Missouri went to the half up 48-20.
“It’s like the tides turned (after the fourth down conversion),” Lock said. “We picked that up, we scored. Came back, we scored again. The momentum (swung) our way. It was a big point in the game.”
Missouri was without Adam Sparks to open the third quarter after Sparks was disqualified for targeting — a call that will no doubt spark some controversy over the next week.
In the end, it wouldn’t matter.
Without leading rusher Darrell Henderson — who had been out with a hamstring issue since the first quarter — and facing a 28-point deficit, Memphis found almost no offense throughout the second half.
Okwuegbunam and Rountree combined for one more touchdown apiece, and Missouri’s defense held Memphis to just 13 second-half points to seal the bounce back win.
“We lost three games in a row, so to break that losing-streak is just big as a team (to) kind of get everybody’s morale up,” Cam Hilton said.
After three straight performances with a lot left to be desired, Lock looked like his usual, efficient self against Memphis. He completed 23 of 29 pass for 350 yards and four touchdowns on the night.
Lost in the spectacle that was Missouri’s air attack was the outstanding play of Rountree, who ran for 13.1 yards-per-carry and punched in three touchdowns on the ground in the win.