Sunday, September 21, 2014

Missouri opens with a win, heads to Toledo next

Missouri kicked off its season with a 38-18 home win over South Dakota State on Saturday. It was Missouri’s annual game against a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly called I-AA) team. South Dakota State is better than most of the FCS teams Missouri (1-0) has easily rolled through the years, and the Jackrabbits hung around on Saturday afternoon.

South Dakota State answered Missouri’s quick early touchdown with a long touchdown run from senior Zach Zenner, and then drew within three on another Zenner touchdown run in the third quarter.
But Missouri answered with a Marcus Murphy kickoff return for a touchdown, and then Aarion Penton intercepted a South Dakota State pass in the end zone, allowing the Tigers to keep the Jackrabbits at arm’s length the rest of the game.

It was far from a dominant performance, as Missouri only outgained South Dakota State by 28 yards. Missouri’s secondary got worked a bit by SDSU receiver Jake Wieneke. But the Tigers won by 20 because of the kick return for a touchdown and three South Dakota State turnovers to none for Missouri.

It wasn’t the typical FCS beatdown, but instead called to mind Missouri’s 38-17 win over FCS team Illinois State in 2007. Illinois State was a good FCS team and kept the game competitive. That 2007 Missouri team, of course, went on to win 12 games and the Cotton Bowl.

It was encouraging for Missouri to have Russel Hansbrough and Murphy each average over six yards per carry, and to get two touchdown receptions and 83 yards from Darius White, especially since I’ve developed a tradition of watching the Texas transfer for a breakout season. If he could be a big play receiver for the Tigers, this team has a lot of upside.

That upside includes contending for another SEC East title. The Tigers’ chances of that were helped by a season-opening Thursday night game, when Texas A&M, picked to finish near the bottom of the SEC West, went on the road and hammered South Carolina, on the SEC East favorites. It was a shocking defeat, and an encouraging one for the other East hopefuls. Missouri visits South Carolina Sept. 27.

But first comes Saturday’s tricky road trip to Toledo (11 a.m. on ESPN). Missouri opened as about a touchdown favorite, which shows respect for Toledo.

Toledo is a contender for Mid-American Conference title, and the Rockets are stout on the offensive and defensive lines. The defense can be strong, and running back Kareem Hunt will be another test for Missouri. To me, Toledo looks like a better team than two of Missouri’s SEC opponents, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

Toledo’s Glass Bowl holds less than 30,000, but it should be rocking Saturday for what could be the Rockets’ biggest home game of the year.

Missouri opening game provided a blueprint for winning at Toledo: win the turnover battle, steady running game, and a few big plays from special teams or the wide receivers. If they win at Toldeo, the Tigers will have two home games to try to keep building momentum heading into SEC play.

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