That was the only question the Missouri offense seemingly had to answer here Saturday night during its 51-28 blasting of host Vanderbilt. Missouri alternated scoring touchdowns and field goals on its first seven possessions, and the Tigers eventually scored nine of the first 10 times they had the ball.
In fact, James Franklin the Vanderbilt coach probably has seen enough of James Franklin the Missouri quarterback, who accounted for 341 yards — 278 passing and 63 rushing — of the 523 yards of total offense the Tigers totaled
“I would like to start by apologizing to the fans and the people that came to the game because that’s not what they came to see,” Vanderbilt’s Franklin said after the Commodores dropped to 3-3 overall and 0-3 in the Southeastern Conference. In picking up its first SEC win, Missouri remained undefeated at 5-0.
“I apologize and take full responsibility,” Franklin added. “It’s my responsibility to have the team ready to play.”
The only time Missouri didn’t score when it had the ball during the first three quarters was when it let the clock run out on one play at halftime. And it wasn’t until the fourth quarter and their ninth offensive possession until the Tigers were finally held on downs and had to punt.
“Defensively, I thought we got beat up front,” Franklin said about how the Commodores didn’t slow Missouri, which built a 30-7 bulge by halftime. “We couldn’t get pressure on the quarterback. We didn’t bat any balls down. We didn’t get tackles for a loss. We didn’t get sacks.”
Missouri’s Franklin made sure to spread the offensive wealth. Six different Tigers caught the 19-of-28 completions he threw, including being led by a pair of senior receivers — Marcus Lucas with six catches for 60 yards and one touchdown and three catches by L’Damian Washington for 86 yards and two scores.
To go with the 278 passing yards, Missouri also got it done on the ground with 245 rushing yards, including 76 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns by junior tailback Henry Josey.
“He is a great quarterback,” Vanderbilt’s Franklin said of Missouri’s Franklin, a senior. “He is an exceptional athlete. … (We) couldn’t pressure the quarterback.
” … You have to frustrate him before he goes through his progressions, and we weren’t able to do that.”
After starting the game with three straight possessions without a first down, the Vanderbilt offense did settle down and try to enter into a shootout with the Tigers. But the Commodores could pull within only 16 points on several occasions in the second half.
“I think we came out great with high energy and I think our players were ready to get into league play,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “It wasn’t a perfect performance, but we did a lot of good things. … We started off fast. When you get a lead, the key is holding onto that lead and focus.
“We have to get better at handling those situations. I thought it was really good. I thought we played real well the first half. In the second half, the defense struggled a little bit in the third quarter.”
In playing from behind the entire game, the Commodores did manage 468 yards of total offense. Senior quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels completed 29-of-41 passes for 338 yards and two touchdowns, including seven catches for 123 yards and one score by standout senior receiver Jordan Matthews.
During the game, Matthews became Vanderbilt’s all-time leading receiver with 2,990 career yards, breaking the previous record of 2,964 yards set by Boo Mitchell from 1985-88. He also became the team’s career touchdown receptions leader with 22, breaking the previous record of 21 set by Dan Stricker from 1999-2002.
The Tigers wasted no time getting on the scoreboard first, taking the opening possession and racing 75 yards in only five plays and using only 1:17 off the clock to do it. Franklin completed all three of his passes on the drive, including a 26-yard scoring strike to Washington to cap the drive.
On their next possession, Franklin was perfect on his pass attempts, completing all five, to set up a 44-yard field goal by sophomore Andrew Baggett to give the Tigers a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Missouri made it 17-0 less than a minute later after sophomore linebacker Kentrell Brothers picked off a Carta-Samuels pass and returned it 15 yards to the Vanderbilt 11-yard line. In connecting on his ninth-straight pass to open the game, Franklin found senior tight end Eric Waters all alone in the middle of the end zone for the score.
“We feel like we can beat anybody when we come out like that,” Waters said. “Our preparation goes a long way. All the hard work we put in really pays off when we can translate it to the field.”
After yet another offensive series of three plays and out without a first down — their third to open the game — by the Commodores, the Tigers made it four-for-four on scoring possessions to open the game. This time, a 42-yard run up the middle by tailback Marcus Murphy set up a 29-yard field goal by Baggett.
After finding itself down 20-0, Vanderbilt finally got its offense working with a 15-play, 75-yard drive to pull within 20-7 early in the second quarter. After his two-yard run converted a fourth down to keep the drive alive, senior running back Wesley Tate capped the drive with a two-yard scoring run.
Missouri made it five-for-five on scoring possessions and a 27-7 bulge on the ensuing possession, going 75 yards on only seven plays. The big play was a 21-yard pass from Franklin to junior wide receiver Jimmie Hunt across the middle. The drive was capped by a five-yard scoring jaunt untouched around the right side by junior Josey.
And to cap the first half of offensive fireworks, Missouri made it 30-7 by intermission when Baggett made his third field-goal attempt in as many tries, this time from 41 yards.
In scoring on the six of its first-half possessions, the Tigers had 285 yards of total offense compared to Vanderbilt’s 97.
Vanderbilt is off next Saturday before hosting Georgia the following Saturday.
“It comes at a great time,” Franklin said of the bye week. ” … We have to recruit like crazy because there are holes in our roster that are showing up right now. We’re 0-1 this week. We’d like to be 1-0 next game.”