Missouri found the key to unlocking its potential Saturday.
“If we’re very focused, we can be pretty good,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “And if we’re not focused, we can look very average.”
For the first time in about a month, Missouri played a concentrated game on both sides of the ball from start to finish. The Tigers earned a 52-17 win over Iowa State in front of a sold-out crowd of 71,004 fans celebrating the university’s 100th Homecoming.
The Tigers gained 583 yards of offense and forced three turnovers on defense to earn their second conference win of the year. And for the first time all season, the highest penalized team in the Big 12 Conference didn’t earn a single yellow flag.
“We did a great job this past week working cutting down on our mistakes,” sophomore quarterback James Franklin said. “We did have three turnovers, and I threw two interceptions, but our coaches encouraged us to stay positive and keep a good mindset.”
Sophomore tailback Henry Josey stole the show again, amassing 131 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. It’s the third time the Big 12’s leading rusher has rushed for a hundred yards in a game this season.
Perhaps most importantly, the connection between Franklin and senior tight end Michael Egnew showed improvement for the second straight week. The two connected six times for 105 yards. The game permanently turned in Missouri’s favor when Franklin threaded a 39-yard touchdown pass to Egnew through two defenders late in the first quarter. The score put Missouri up by 18 points, and Iowa State never came close to narrowing the gap.
“That was almost perfect,” Egnew said. “All I had to do was run. It made it easy for me. There were a couple guys close, but that’s what was good with (former MU quarterbacks Blaine) Gabbert and (Chase) Daniel. They were comfortable with their arm. I could see that from James right there, he was confident in his throw.”
It was Franklin’s arm that got him into trouble a few times. After leading four touchdown drives to start the game, Franklin’s next two drives ended with interceptions. The sophomore has thrown three interceptions in the last two games.
But he managed to rebound against the Cyclones, finishing the day with five total touchdowns and his fifth consecutive game with over 200 yards passing.
“Those were very poor decisions by James, and the great thing about that is he came back,” Pinkel said. “(The interceptions) were almost back-to-back, and we lost field position. And can you come out of that and continue to focus, regain your focus and go out and execute? So there’s a great lesson there if you learn it and you apply it and I think he did. “
Not to be outdone, Missouri’s defense played with an edge all game long. The Tigers held Iowa State to just 383 yards of offense, but critical mistakes kept the Cyclones from sustaining many drives.
MU sophomore cornerback E.J. Gaines’ forced fumble on the opening drive and junior defensive end Brad Madison’s tipped interception in the fourth led to two Missouri touchdowns. The Tigers’ four forced turnovers was the highest single-game total they’d had all season. Pinkel attributed this to his team’s defensive cohesiveness.
“They work hand in hand together,” Pinkel said. “That’s what they do. With your secondary, the better coverage, the more pressure and you get (the quarterback) running around back there and throwing the ball away. I think we helped each other out at times.”
After losing two of the last three games, Pinkel said it was simply a relief to have such a complete performance.
“It feels good to win,” Pinkel said. “It’s been a couple of tough weeks and when were focused we were a pretty good football team most of the day. So, its lessons learned here, we’ll learn from this and we have a big one coming in next week.”
Missouri will play Oklahoma State at 11 a.m. Saturday at Faurot Field.