The quick turnaround Missouri envisioned came to fruition.
One week after losing at Wyoming, the Tigers sunk their teeth into West Virginia and never relented for a 38-7 win Saturday at Faurot Field in front of an announced crowd of 51,215.
The contest against the Tigers' former Big 12 foes was essentially a must-win game for Missouri, and the Tigers came up big.
The Tigers preached how the loss in Laramie doesn't define them. Missouri head coach Barry Odom said minutes after the game ended Saturday that even the lopsided win over the Mountaineers shouldn’t be the definition of his squad.
“We are defined by how we respond from every opportunity that we get,” Odom said. “... They were on a mission and their practice habits aligned with the way that we played this afternoon.”
Several factors improved from Missouri’s opener to home debut.
MU controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, allowing its rushers to find lanes throughout the game while preventing rushers on the other side from finding much of anything.
A few Tiger offensive linemen stated that they were outplayed in Wyoming. Seven days later, they pushed the Mountaineers back and let the speedsters from the backfield gain 232 yards.
Larry Rountree was the Tigers’ leading rusher with 99 yards and a touchdown. That comes a week after only getting three second-half carries against Wyoming and MU opting to play Tyler Badie down the stretch.
“Personally I felt like I didn't do enough, and again when you look at those games of what you can do better for the next game, you try not to repeat the same mistakes that week and go out there and play and have fun. ... It's the first home game, why not have fun?” Rountree said.
“I felt like we had a lot of fun, a lot more energy on the sideline, and it was great.”
Rountree’s success could be infectious. Odom didn’t expect another down game from one of his team captains and he didn’t get it.
“He might be as strong of an energy force that we have,” Odom said of Rountree. “I know it's a strange word, but the pulse of our team a lot of times, we’ll go with Larry, and that's in the locker room, that's on the field, that's practice habits, that's his body language and then watching him finish runs today, that's what we needed.”
Along with the ground attack’s resurgence, MU’s rush defense looked the part as well. After letting Wyoming run wild for nearly 300 yards last week, the Tigers limited the Mountaineers to 30 yards rushing and held WVU to a single-digit total or less for a majority of the game.
That gave the offense the ball consistently and wore out West Virginia’s defense.
“We took last week very seriously,” Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam said. “We fixed all those things and I think we did a good job.”
Okwuegbunam was on the receiving end of two Kelly Bryant throws for touchdowns, the tight end’s first scores in almost 11 months. Bryant’s other touchdown pass went to Barrett Banister, a former walk-on who scored his first MU touchdown.
“I think it's important for us now to enjoy this win, but also don’t forget where we came from,” Banister said. “We made some mistakes in Laramie that we don't want to make again, and I think that this team can be special if we do what we're supposed to do and take care of what we’re capable of controlling.”
Bryant ended the game with 150 pass yards after setting a career-high mark with 423 last week. Perhaps what the Clemson transfer did with the ball before his throws is what will be best remembered coming out of the game.
“He never stops, and when you think he's in a position to be tackled, he's really not,” Odom said of Bryant. “He is a strong runner and he's got elusive speed. ... I'm sure glad he's our quarterback.”
He evaded sacks on a few occasions with a West Virginia player starting to wrap his arms around the quarterback’s torso, as in Okwuegbunam’s second touchdown catch.
“He’s always going to distribute the ball,” said MU wide receiver Jonathan Nance, Bryant’s roommate. “He’s going to do what he does. When it comes to you, you got to make plays. ... It’s just great to know that the play may never be over, but you've always got to be ready because we've got to be moving to help him out when he does scramble.”
Missouri’s offense was potent in the first half, scoring on five straight drives from the first quarter until the closing moments of the first half, first with a field goal and then four straight touchdowns.
With this win, Missouri avoids starting 0-2 for the first time since 1996. The Tigers were almost the first team to shut out the Mountaineers since Maryland did so in 2013.
MU also nearly shut out an opponent for the second straight time by a 38-0 scoreline at home, as it blanked Arkansas in its 2018 regular-season finale.
The Tigers amassed 382 yards of total offense. The Mountaineers were held to 171 yards from scrimmage.
Missouri (1-1) hosts Southeast Missouri State next Saturday in a 6:30 p.m. kickoff.
While the Tigers should be a heavy favorite against the Redhawks, Odom wouldn’t want his team’s next challenge to define it, either. Eight of the Tigers’ final nine regular-season games are against Southeastern Conference opposition.
That’s the stretch that will best define how the 2019 season will be remembered. The win over West Virginia nearly ensures that the pain from Wyoming is further away than it was Friday night.
“I thought we controlled the game,” Odom said. “I thought we controlled it from the jump.”