Going into Saturday, junior Markus Golden had never scored a touchdown.
In fact, he had never had an interception. But that all changed with 11:40 left in the third quarter, with Missouri clinging to a miniscule 17-9 lead.
“The ball popped up, it fell in my hands, and I just took off running,” Golden said, smiling.
Galloping 70 yards, the 6-foot-3-inch, 260 pound lineman, dreadlocks flailing, tore through open turf to the end zone, swinging the momentum to the Tigers, as Missouri (2-0) defeated Toledo (0-2), 38-23.
After the play, Golden dropped the ball and pointed toward the crowd, nodding his head as a gold and anthracite black swarm mobbed him. He lived up his first touchdown a little too much, though, as the referees called an excessive celebration penalty.
“I was a little upset,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “They said he put his hands in the air. I have to look at it and see what it is.”
The pick-six was part of three total interceptions, as the defense came up big for Missouri. Even though there was a 15-point gap in the score, Toledo combined for three more total yards than the inconsistent Tigers offense, hampered by injured senior offensive lineman Max Copeland, who left the game with a high left ankle sprain.
To make up for the sputtering run game, senior quarterback James Franklin took the ball himself, leading the team in rushing, with 77 yards. Franklin often lowered his shoulder, taking hits while he carried the ball.
“I think it helps out a lot,” Franklin said, two cuts evident on his left hand. “Every time there’s a big hit, I think it amps everybody up a little bit.”
Besides Franklin, the lone bright spot in the backfield was senior running back Henry Josey, who tallied a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs for the Tigers.
Passing, though, did not seem too big an issue for the Tigers. Despite tossing an interception, Franklin went 16-for-25 with 212 yards in the air.
In the second quarter, with 1:14 left, Franklin found sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham for a causal, 9-yard fade to turn a one-point game into an eight-point game. Fellow receiver, senior L’Damian Washington, paced the catching corps with five catches for 78 yards.
Effectively working the screen, the Rockets also found success in the air, pummeling the Missouri defense for 262 yards and a touchdown.
“We weren’t covering very good,” Pinkel said. “Guess what, we’ll see (the screen) from Indiana (in two weeks). Obviously, we got to work on that.”
Perhaps the most jarring play from the MIssouri defense occurred during the third quarter. Senior linebacker Andrew Wilson, who led the team in tackles last year, clocked a Toledo receiver about the shoulders, incurring a targeting penalty.
Under the new targeting rule, Wilson was ejected from the game and will sit out the first half against Indiana on Sept. 21.
“Bottom line is you can’t above the shoulders,” Pinkel said. “You can’t hit near the shoulders. You can’t do it. …. He would never try to hurt anybody, but we got to protect the game and the kids.”
Although Pinkel saw great strides from Golden and Franklin, he still thinks the squad has a lot to work on before taking on the Hoosiers in two weeks.
“There’s a lot of things in place,” he said, “but we just got to get it together and do a better job coaching.”