COLUMBIA — Missouri proved once again Saturday that defense is its strength as it only allowed 201 yards and a second-quarter field goal to lead the No. 24 Tigers to a 34-3 win against Southeast Missouri State at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium.
Linebacker Kentrell Brothers seemed to be around every play as he recorded a career-high 16 tackles.
”The defensive line did a great job,” Brothers said. “They did a great job taking up most of the double teams to help the linebackers. I just took advantage of the situation and tried to get in on as many tackles as I could.”
The closest to Brothers in tackles was defensive back Aarion Penton with seven.
Brothers and Penton made one of the most memorable plays of the game when Brothers blitzed on a fourth down and blocked a pooch punt attempt by SEMO quarterback Tay Bender. The ball ended up going from the left side of the field to the right, where Penton was all alone and returned it 41 yards to a score. It gave the Tigers a 27-3 lead late in the third quarter.
SEMO could only manage to finish three drives in Missouri territory. Those drives ended with a field goal, a fumble and a punt.
The Tigers got to learn about some of their young defensive talent.
Sophomore linebacker Joey Burkett had six tackles.
Freshman defensive tackle Terry Beckner, Jr. played much of the second half and had four tackles, including one for a four-yard loss.
“He’s a very talented young guy,” said Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel. “He’s very humble, which mean he’ll get better faster because he’s not into himself.”
Sophomore defensive end Charles Harris also recorded four tackles, including 1.5 for loss.
Missouri also got flashy play out of senior defensive back Kenya Dennis, who blitzed from the nickel spot to get a sack and leaped in the air to knock away a pass with one hand to prevent a deep completion down the sideline.
While the defense shined, there are still questions to be answered with the offense.
Injuries plagued that side of the ball with running back Russell Hansbrough and center Evan Boehm missing much of the game with ankle injuries.
Those injuries aren’t expected to be serious, but the running game suffered.
Four running backs combined for 86 yards on 29 carries after Hansbrough left after two carries for 23 yards.
“That’s a huge loss for us because I think Russell is a really high level player this year,” Pinkel said. “You’ll see him play at a whole different level.”
Ish Witter, Tyler Hunt, Morgan Steward and Chase Abbington all carried the ball at least once.
“At times we need to block better and times we need to run better,” Pinkel said.
Hunt did provide the longest play of the day when he was left wide open in the middle of the field after freshman backup quarterback Drew Lock scrambled out of the pocket.
Lock heaved the ball to Hunt, who caught it and ran it in for a 78-yard score for the final points of the game.
“I love the kid, so I’m looking at him saying ‘catch the ball,’” Pinkel said. “I mean the whole world is watching you and you can look like the greatest player in the world or you can look not very good.”
It was the first touchdown pass of Lock’s collegiate career. Lock played the first series of the second quarter and played the final seven minutes of the game.
“I came into fall camp wanting to put myself in the best position possible,” Lock said. “I truly felt that I could play at this level early. They put me out there to see what I could do (Saturday) and I feel like I showed that I could do some things. There’s a lot of work to be done still and I’m learning.”
Lock finished 6 of 10 for 138 yards and a TD and was sacked once. Maty Mauk went 12 of 22 for 181 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
“I thought he did some good things, I really did,” Pinkel said of Lock. “He executed well. He needs tons of work. As long as practices well and produces when he goes in we’ll continue to do that.”
Mauk and Lock were throwing to an inexperienced receiving corps, but an athletic one for sure.
Sophomore J’Mon Moore scored the first touchdown of the game when he out-jumped a SEMO defender in the back corner of the end zone for a 27-yard score.
Sophomore Nate Brown caught some deep passes, including a 23-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
“I think a lot of those guys are scared to death as competitors,” Pinkel said. “First time playing here. First time getting out there. I think that they responded well and will gain some confidence from it but there are certain things we need to improve.”
The Tigers will be on the road for week 2 when they play Arkansas State at 6 p.m. Saturday. The Red Wolves lost 55-6 to No. 8 USC to open the season.
Jason Strickland can be reached at 660-530-0147 or on Twitter @J_Strick_Sports.