The ball slipped through wide receiver L’Damian Washington’s fingers.
Down 16-14 halfway through the third quarter, senior quarterback James Franklin hit the 6-4, 205 pound senior in the chest for what might have been a 30-yard reception.
The drop didn’t shake the quarterback or receiver. Franklin and Washington were suit-mates freshman year. Franklin calls his friend “Dame-Dame.” The duo even has a handshake.
Franklin didn’t lose hope.
On a critical third and four, the two connected. Franklin found Washington for a first down. Six plays later, Franklin arched a pass to a tip-toeing Washington into the right side of the end zone for a touchdown, making the score 20-16.
Despite missing the two-point conversion, Missouri (4-0) charged ahead to defeat Arkansas State (2-3, 1-0 Sun Belt Conference), 41-19.
The score was the game’s fourth and final lead change.
“That was tiring,” coach Gary Pinkel said after the game. “Fortunately we did the right things in the second half.”
Franklin energized the Missouri offense, going 20 for 29 with 255 yards and three touchdowns, including a nine-yard running touchdown in the fourth-quarter. The third-year starter led a balanced attack with 239 combined yards on the ground and 256 yards in the air.
Outside of Washington, Franklin hurled four passes to sophomore wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who racked up 95 yards and two touchdowns.
Trusting his arm, Franklin launched a 68-yard bomb to Green-Beckham, who galloped past three defensive backs, in the second quarter for a touchdown. That score led Missouri to its first lead in the game, 7-6.
“(Green-Beckham) is getting better,” Pinkel said. “The more times we can get the ball in his hands, the better we are.”
A trio of tailbacks averaged an astounding 8.5 yards per carry for Missouri, splicing big gains in between many small ones. Sophomore tailback Russell Hansbrough led the team with 96 yards, including a 42-yard breakout run in the first quarter.
His counterparts, juniors Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy, combined for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
“They are explosive, quick and can change directions,” Pinkel said. “Yet they all have their subtle differences which is really a plus for us.”
Up until the fourth quarter, Arkansas State kept the game interesting. Red Wolves’ field goal kicker Brian Davis toed four through the uprights.
A slippery JD McKissic and wide receiver Julian Jones combined for 289 total yards and a touchdown, wearing out the Missouri defense.
After giving up 13 points in the first half, though, the defense found its rhythm, allowing only six points in the second half.
“I think (defensive coordinator Dave) Steckel settled them down a bit,” Pinkel said. “There’s a quiet confidence when he talks to the team. But you have to understand that (the defense) was on the field forever (in the first half).”
Mizzou will face their first conference opponent, Vanderbilt, next Saturday in Nashville at 6:30 p.m.
Mizzou senior defensive back Randy Ponder was penalized for targeting in the first quarter and sat out the rest of the game. Ponder will be able to play next week against Vanderbilt.