Missouri looks to keep racking up points against Wyoming’s stingy defense

Wide receiver Emanuel Hall stretches the field for Missouri.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri‘s offense, lightning quick in 2017, took a slight pause in the season opener.

A year ago, the Tigers ranked 129th nationally — second to last among FBS teams — in time of possession with an average of 25:01 per game as offensive coordinator Josh Heupel ran plays at a hectic pace. Last week in Missouri’s 51-14 victory over Tennessee-Martin, first-year offensive coordinator Derek Dooley slowed things down and tried some new looks for quarterback Drew Lock and Co.

“It’s going to be different,” Lock said after the game. “We’re not just playing fast with similar formations where people can time up our stuff.”

Missouri held the ball for 33:17 while a trio of freshman receivers — Kam Scott, Dominic Gicinto and Jalen Knox — combined for 117 yards and a touchdown on five receptions; in all, 10 Tigers caught a pass as an offense that piled up big numbers last year is looking to become increasingly versatile.

A challenge could come Saturday when Missouri (1-0) hosts Wyoming (1-1). The Cowboys last year led the nation with a plus-24 turnover margin and held New Mexico State to seven points in the opener. Wyoming played Washington State tight last week before allowing 21 fourth-quarter points in a 41-19 loss. Allowing 41 points is an anomaly, however, for a Wyoming team that gave up just 17.8 points per game last season.

“Look at the categories defensively and they show up a lot in the top 15, top 10,” Tigers coach Barry Odom said. “They’re aggressive in their coverages, but they also understand where they need to be every snap.”

Odom’s defense may need to account for Wyoming senior running back Nico Evans, who has already rushed for a nation’s-best 279 yards along with three touchdowns through the first two games. Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said Evans is nursing bruised ribs and might not play.

“We’ve got a big challenge, but we’re going to move forward, and I think we’ve got good players, too,” Bohl said.

KEEPIN’ IT CLEAN

Missouri committed just four penalties for 45 yards and didn’t surrender a turnover in its opener against UT Martin. The Tigers couldn’t have asked for a much better start in the discipline department, especially going into a game against the ballhawking Cowboys.

“I’m excited about the process of playing clean football on both sides of the ball,” Odom said. “Eighty-two snaps on offense and to not have a turnover, that’s a good mark to build on.”

Bohl vowed to clean things up after Wyoming was hit with more than 100 yards in penalties in its opener.

“That has not been typical of our … football program,” he said.

MOVING ON UP

Lock threw for 289 yards and four touchdowns against the Skyhawks last week. His 8,934 career passing yards are now second in Missouri history, passing Brad Smith’s 8,644 passing yards from 2002-05. The senior Heisman hopeful still has 3,531 yards to go to catch Tigers passing leader Chase Daniel.

OUT OF POWER

Wyoming has now lost its last 13 games against Power Five teams. The Cowboys’ last victory came in a 13-7 road win over Tennessee in 2008 — also the last time they faced an SEC team.

HALL-ING IT IN

Missouri senior wide receiver Emanuel Hall set a new career high with 171 receiving yards against UT Martin, surpassing his previous high of 141 against Georgia in 2017. The Tigers’ deep threat has posted 32 catches and 884 yards in his previous nine contests, an average of 27.6 yards per catch.

SOUTHERN COMFORT

SEC squads posted a 13-1 record in the first week, with notable wins coming from No. 9 Auburn against No. 6 Washington and No. 25 LSU versus No. 8 Miami. Despite not watching many of the games, Odom said he knows that “from top to bottom, it’s the best league in college football.”