This wasn’t the same Missouri football team that Troy upset last season. Or even the same team that lost to New Mexico last week.
It showed in every aspect of the Tigers’ 52-21 victory Saturday at Memorial Stadium, as well as in the locker room afterward, where loud shouts and wide smiles replaced the quiet contemplation and dejected faces of a week ago.
“It was that important to our confidence level,” receiver Brad Ekwerekwu said. “To get a win before the bye week and Texas and let us know we can execute.”
The difference on the field was just as evident.
Unlike last year’s No.17-ranked group that trotted proudly down to Troy and dominated early, before melting down in a 24-14 loss, this year a humbled Tigers squad struggled initially, but came on strong.
Rather than driving down the field for an easy score on the opening drive like last season, Missouri was forced to punt on its first possession Saturday.
In last year’s upset, the Tigers’ defense intercepted Troy quarterback Aaron Leak on his first pass attempt. This year, Missouri allowed a Troy first down on the first pass.
This team knew it would have to earn a win. The Tigers played turnover-free on offense, and showed big play capability, with eight plays on offense and special teams that gained more than 20 yards.
“It was about motivation,” Ekwerekwu said. “This year we didn’t have that sense of complacency.”
The Missouri defense squashed a Troy attempt at trickery on second down when Calvin Washington stayed at home on an end-around play to stop Troy receiver Darius Williams for no gain. The next play, Jamar Smith sacked Troy quarterback Carl Meadows for a 7-yard loss.
On the first play of Missouri’s next drive, sophomore tailback Tony Temple illustrated to the 50,167 fans in attendance why he was a prized recruit out of football powerhouse Rockhurst in Kansas City. He found a hole in the right side of the Missouri offensive line on a draw play and used his speed to outrun the Troy secondary for a 59-yard touchdown.
“I saw him go through about half a step, and he was gone ... I was already getting ready to run onto the field,” said place-kicker Adam Crossett, who kicked the extra point after the play.
Suddenly, it seemed like everyone on offense wanted to make a big play.
“That really us gave a spark,” MU quarterback Brad Smith said.
Smith showed he had a little extra in his step in the second quarter when he made several defenders miss while zig-zagging down the field on a 26-yard run. The drive ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ekwerekwu that put the Tigers up 17-7 with 8:19 to go in the half.
Crossett, who was 3-for-3 on field goals, added a game-long 43-yarder before halftime to give Missouri a 20-7 lead.
Xzavie Jackson gave the Missouri offense a short field on its first drive of the second half after the defensive end came up with a big play of his own, recovering a Meadows’ fumble at the Troy 13.
The takeaway was the first in seven quarters for the Tigers.
“It felt good because our coaches always talk about takeaways, takeaways, takeaways,” Jackson said.
It took only one play, a 13-yard Smith option keeper, for the Tigers to expand the lead to 28-7.
Marcus Woods added his contribution to the highlight reel a few minutes later when he returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown, running the score to 35-7.
With the lead secure in the fourth quarter, reserve running backs Jimmy Jackson and Kevin Duncan got their chances to show big play capability. Jackson caught a 46-yard bomb from Smith and broke a run for 24 yards. Duncan delivered a 37-yard run on the game’s final play.