By Terez A. Paylor, The Kansas City Star –
COLUMBIA, Mo. — All offseason long, Missouri’s players and coaches have insisted they can hang with the strength and speed of teams in the Southeastern Conference.
Of course, the ultimate test is next week, when the Tigers play host to Georgia in their SEC debut. But Missouri definitely took the first step toward backing up its words in Saturday’s season opener as the Tigers sped over, around and past Southeastern Louisiana in a 62-10 victory before a Memorial Stadium crowd of 62,173.
The Tigers didn’t waste any time either getting after the Lions, who play a level lower in Division I-AA (now the Football Championship Subdivision).
Missouri — which led 28-0 only 9 minutes into the game — opened the scoring with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a diving 2-yard touchdown catch by receiver T.J. Moe from quarterback James Franklin, who finished the game 13 of 21 passing for 131 yards and a touchdown.
Missouri then hit Southeastern Louisiana with another roundhouse just 42 seconds later, when Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson pressured quarterback Nathan Stanley in to a rushed throw that senior weakside linebacker Zaviar Gooden picked off. He used his 4.37 speed to race 20 yards for a touchdown.
It only got worse for Southeastern Louisiana, as senior tailback Kendial Lawrence — the fastest Tiger — took a handoff on Missouri’s next drive, sped to the edge and was untouched down the sideline for a 76-yard touchdown.
Southeastern Louisiana hoped to answer on its next drive, but Missouri’s defense line again showed its might. End Kony Ealy stripped the ball from Stanley and end Michael Sam scooped it up and ran for 7-yard touchdown with 7 minutes, 19 seconds left in the first quarter.
Shortly after that, rain started falling, and the Tigers didn’t score the rest of the half. The defense, however, was doing just fine, swarming Southeastern Louisiana’s offense until the Lions’ final drive of the half, when penalties bit Missouri.
A personal foul on defensive tackle Richardson extended the drive when a third-and-12 pass was broken up, and two more penalties on Ealy also helped Southeastern Louisiana end the half with a 31-yard field goal that cut the deficit to 28-3.
Missouri, however, re-established its dominance in the second half, forcing a fumble on the opening kickoff. Lawrence, who finished with 124 yards in 10 carries, scored the second of his two touchdowns only 44 seconds later. The Tigers — who also got two punt return touchdowns by Marcus Murphy — outscored the Lions 34-7 in the second half.
Now comes Georgia, which also won its opener Saturday, against Buffalo. That game will give the Tigers their first indication of how they will fare in the SEC. But few would doubt that Saturday’s 52-point victory was a nice start, lower-level opponent or not.