NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A nearly perfect first quarter spotted Missouri a 20-point lead at Vanderbilt. Missouri senior quarterback James Franklin went 9-for-10 in the first frame for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
“That’s something we always try to prepare to do, is make sure we come out and do well,” Franklin said. “And it was, and we felt pretty good.”
He felt very good, apparently. Franklin finished 19 of 28 for 278 yards and four touchdowns in his second straight week of interception-free play as Missouri stayed undefeated through its first Southeastern Conference test, defeating Vanderbilt 51-28.
“We started off fast, on both sides of the football,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “You can get a lead, and the key is holding onto the lead and not losing focus.”
The defense did give up 371 yards in the second half, but Pinkel said he was impressed by his team’s resiliency. Missouri responded immediately with a touchdown following each one of Vandy’s scores.
Senior L’Damian Washington led Missouri receivers with 86 yards and two touchdowns on just three catches, including a 26-yard touchdown catch just over one minute into the game.
“I think any time you can come out the first drive and you score points, it sets the tone right off the bat,” Washington said.
After scoring on its first two drives, Missouri maintained momentum when sophomore linebacker Kentrell Brothers picked off Austyn Carta-Samuels and returned it to the Commodore 11 yard line.
On the very next play, Franklin faked to senior tailback Henry Josey and lobbed it to wide-open tight end Eric Waters in the end zone.
“It was really important because that’s something we always want to work on, scoring points off turnovers, not just points but touchdowns,” Franklin said.
After not recording a sack against both Toledo and Indiana, Missouri got after the quarterback for the second straight game, recording seven sacks. Senior defensive lineman Michael Sam, who earned SEC-defensive lineman of the week for his three-sack performance last week, recorded three more sacks among six tackles.
“It’s huge for our team,” Sam said of the defensive pressure. “It’s always good to get sacks, that means we’re doing our job.”
The Missouri secondary followed the line’s example, shutting down all-SEC receiver Jordan Matthews in the first half, allowing just two catches for eight yards. Matthews picked it up in the second half, though, catching five balls for 115 yards and a touchdown against Missouri’s “bend-don’t-break” defense.
Senior cornerback E.J. Gaines got the pleasure of matching up in one-on-one situations with Vanderbilt’s record holder in both touchdown catches and receiving yards, marks he surpassed Saturday night.
“He’s a great player, and we knew that, and I feel I’m a great player, too,” Gaines said. “Any time I can get competition like that, it’s fun.”
Sophomore kicker Andrew Baggett knocked in three field goals for Missouri, two of which were over 40 yards.
Missouri will travel to Georgia next week to face its toughest opponent of the season in its biggest stadium of the season. Like most SEC cities, Athens, Ga., is a city that no Pinkel-led team has visited.
“It feels good to be 5-0,” Sam said, “and what’s better is 6-0.”