COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Missouri coach Barry Odom showed up this week displaying little black-and-yellow cards that he handed out to his team that read quite simply: “Takeaways Victory.”
The Tigers didn’t have enough of them in a stunning loss to Wyoming last weekend.
They had plenty in a 38-7 blowout of West Virginia on Saturday.
Missouri turned over the Mountaineers three times without committing one of its own, returning one of its interceptions for a touchdown. And even when the Tigers didn’t get a takeaway, they usually forced rebuilding West Virginia to go backward before ultimately punting.
“I was proud of our team and proud of our staff and the way we bounced back,” Odom said. “There is a fine line in winning, and winning is hard. But I told our guys, ‘We’re not going to be defined by one game,’ just like we’re not going to be defined by this one.”
Too bad. This one was almost perfect.
Kelly Bryant threw for 150 yards and three scores while playing fewer than three quarters due to the heat. Albert Okwuegbunam had two of the touchdown grabs and Barrett Banister the other one, while Larry Rountree added 99 yards and a score on the ground.
Nick Bolton had a pair of interceptions and the touchdown return, while the Tigers (1-10 limited the Mountaineers (1-1) to just 30 yards rushing after yielding 297 in last week’s loss at Wyoming.
“This game was won on Tuesday and Wednesday. This game was won by how we practiced,” Missouri offensive tackle Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms said. “We practiced better than we did last week.”
Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall was 15 of 25 for 137 yards with two interceptions, and most of his yardage came on a late TD throw. The Mountaineers’ leading rusher? Alec Sinkfield with 27 yards.
“We were completely outplayed and outcoached in all phases,” West Virginia coach Neal Brown said. “This is key, and I want you all to listen to me on this: I’m very disappointed in our performance, but I’m not discouraged. I want that to be heard loud and clear. I’m not discouraged.”
The Tigers weren’t discouraged by last week, either. But they sure were motivated.
Okwuegbunam capped a 72-yard drive with his first touchdown reception to make it 10-0 late in the first quarter. Rountree scored from 10 yards out after a 59-yard march early in the second, then Okwuegbunam grabbed his second TD catch later in the quarter. And when Bryant found Banister in the final seconds of the first half, the Tigers had built a 31-0 lead at the break.
As for West Virginia, well, things went haywire right from the start.
Brown called for an onside kick to begin the game and it didn’t work. The Mountaineers went three-and-out on their first drive, then Kendall had tipped passes picked off to end each of the next two possessions. They even missed a field goal in the second quarter.
West Virginia’s running game may have been the most embarrassing aspect of the day. Brown had vowed it would improve after managing 34 yards against James Madison last week, but the Mountaineers actually went backward in the first half – 15 attempts took them back six feet.
West Virginia lost another three yards on the ground in the third quarter, and its bumbling and ineffective offense didn’t reach positive yards on the ground until there was 7:44 to go.
“If we want to win games and be as good as we want to, we can’t play like that,” Mountaineers offensive lineman Josh Sills said. “It was bad, terrible. Even if they do outnumber us or line up four in the box or five in the box or whatever, you have to win your one-on-one matchups.”
They hardly won any of them. That’s a big reason Missouri won the game.
“We had great practice leading up to this game,” Rountree added. “You just try not to repeat the same mistakes and just have fun. First home game, just have fun. We had more energy on the sideline and I think it showed out on the field.”
Missouri’s home opener also was the unveiling of the new south end zone at Faurot Field. The $98 million project created new suites, club seats and a members-only, field-level club space.
Several members of the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues were on hand, getting a big ovation before the start of the game. The Blues play their preseason opener against the Stars on Sept. 16.
West Virginia returns home to face North Carolina State next Saturday.
Missouri faces Southeast Missouri State next Saturday before SEC play begins.