After three games in which Missouri failed to respond after critical mistakes or momentum-changing calls, the Tigers did just that in a 65-33 blowout of Memphis on Saturday.
This was a critical game for Missouri, not just because it was the next one following the Alabama juggernaut. Memphis kicked off a key second-half of the season, one in which the first three games provided no sacrificial lambs.
Is Memphis a dominant Group of Five team? No. But at the same time, the visiting Tigers are not Idaho or UConn from a year ago.
What Missouri did to Memphis — running a team out of the building, a team that nearly upset tenth-ranked UCF a week ago — deserves credit.
Barry Odom, much maligned for Missouri’s very real struggles against good opponents, deserves credit, specifically. Memphis was a scary match-up for Missouri before the game, and the final score should not be used as proof that Missouri only feasts on cupcakes. Not only did Missouri render a top-ten offense inefficient, it answered its own second-quarter struggles with a dominant 45-10 run following Memphis cutting a 21-0 lead to four points midway through the second quarter.
The sequence that led to Missouri nearly blowing an early three-touchdown lead was eerily reminiscent of recent struggles, most notably against Purdue earlier this season. In that game, Missouri saw a 27-10 second-quarter lead evaporate, setting up a back-and-forth game that ended with a Tucker McCann field goal as time expired.
Against Memphis, Missouri nearly handed the lead away.
Leading 21-0, Missouri’s offense went three-and-out on two drives as Memphis answered with 17 points. Memphis’ first points of the night were added by a roughing-the-passer call on Missouri DE Tre Wiliams, giving new life after what appeared to be a third-down stop. The first Memphis touchdown was helped by two Missouri penalties, including a 15-yard face mask call on DeMarkus Acy. After the first three-and-out, a short punt by Corey Fatony (after a bad snap) coupled with a holding call gave Memphis the ball at Missouri’s 38. The visiting Tigers scored in two plays.
On the next offensive series, Missouri looked like it would be facing another three-and-out, as a third-down catch by Johnathan Johnson occurred on a route that didn’t even get to the first-down marker.
It looked eerily similar. The change, though, was how Missouri responded.
Missouri’s fourth-and-two call — a roll-out right by Drew Lock — seemed questionable, to be charitable. Lock has struggled throwing on the run, and taking half the field away from him was an interesting call.
His throw was beyond Johnson, but Johnson held on. First down.
On the next play, Lock found Albert Okwuegbunam for a 58-yard touchdown, his first of three on the day.
On the first play of the next defensive series, Adam Sparks intercepted Memphis quarterback Brady White.
On the next play, Lock connected with Jalen Knox for a 44-yard touchdown.
For the first time since the Purdue game, Missouri answered its own mistakes. It sprung itself awake from its sleep-walking stretch.
It answered adversity and then exploded.
Lock finished 23-of-29 for 350 yards and four touchdowns. Okwuegbunam (6-159-3) and Knox (5-104-1) both went over 100 yards through the air. Larry Rountree ran for 118 yards and three touchdowns on just nine carries.
Memphis ended up scoring 33 points. Memphis, too, has a top-ten offense in the nation, and even without leading rusher Darrell Henderson (hamstring, left the game in the first quarter), they have a potent attack. Looking in the context of game flow, though, Missouri found itself in one touchy stretch, answered and never looked back.
The tests get tougher from here. Missouri faces the top two defenses left on its scheduled in back-to-back games against Kentucky and Florida. Mistakes won’t be as easy to overcome.
But this was the start Missouri needed. Not just in the final score, but in how the game played out. Given the chance to be the same Missouri we’d seen in key games over the past three seasons, it turned a corner instead.
This was the needed step in the right direction for Barry Odom and his tea.