Monday, September 2, 2013

Missouri rolls Murray State, tougher test awaits in Toledo

Missouri running back Henry Josey, who missed all of 2012 after a devastating knee injury late in the 2011 season, had the moment of the night in Missouri’s season opening 58-14 win over Murray State last Saturday at Faurot Field.

Josey got a nice ovation during pregame introductions, and then in the third quarter he raced 68 yards for a touchdown, toward the north end zone and along the east sideline, running right over the spot where his knee was injured.

After diving into the end zone, the rebuilt Josey raised his arms skyward in front of the rebuilt rock M, mobbed by teammates and cheered by the crowd.

There were some tense moments early in the game. Murray State, from Division I’s lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision, scored first and led 14-13 after the first quarter.

Missouri’s defense seemed powerless to stop the Racers’ passing attack early on, even getting bamboozled on a receiver pass back to quarterback Maikhai Miller, who spun away from Kony Ealy and high-stepped into the end zone. On a weekend full of FCS teams beating Football Bowl Subdivision teams, Missouri fans may have been sweating a bit, and not just from the sweltering, near-100-degree heat.

But Missouri took charge from there, outscoring the Racers 45-0 over the final three quarters for the 58-14 win. The Tiger pass defense got much better, even picking off three of Miller’s passes in the game, including two picks by E.J. Gaines and one by Braylon Webb.

Missouri’s offense did what it does against FCS teams through the years, rolling up 694 yards of offense. The Tigers averaged 8.0 yards per carry on the ground, and Russell Hansbrough and Josey each had over 100 yards rushing.

Missouri will get a tougher test this Saturday when they take on the Toledo Rockets (2:30 p.m. on ESPNU). Gary Pinkel coached Toledo for 10 seasons before becoming the head coach at Missouri.
Toledo opened its season with a 24-6 loss at No. 10 Florida. That’s a respectable effort, especially given that the Rockets converted just one of their 13 third downs for a first down against the stout Gator defense.

Florida can make a lot of teams look bad, but Toledo is still a team to be taken seriously. The Rockets went 9-4 last season and return 13 starters, including nine on offense. Senior quarterback Terrance Owens has some scrambling ability, and Toledo returns its top five receivers from last year.

Senior running back David Fluellen ran for 1,498 yards last season, and is a threat behind Toledo’s veteran offensive line.

Toledo’s defense took more of a hit from graduation and is more of a mystery. Kick and punt returner Bernard Reedy had four return touchdowns, and kicker Jeremiah Detmer made his last 17 field goals last year, giving Toledo a very good special teams unit.

While Toledo will provide more of a challenge than Murray State, Missouri should still be able to handle the Rockets. I could see this one being close for a while, but then Missouri pulling away late, maybe winning be a couple of touchdowns.

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