OXFORD, Miss. — The Missouri Tigers might not have a roster full of superstars.
But as a collective they’re an awfully tough bunch to beat, and the Tigers are now one victory away from playing for a Southeastern Conference championship in just their second season in the league.
Henry Josey rushed for two touchdowns, Marcus Murphy added another and No. 8 Missouri rolled to a 24-10 victory over No. 24 Mississippi on Saturday night.
“To say I’m proud of my football team and my staff would be an understatement,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “They battle every time they play. They prepare well and focus at a very high level.”
The Tigers strolled into a hostile environment at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and never flinched, jumping out to a 17-3 lead by halftime for the relatively easy victory.
Now the big one awaits for the Tigers (10-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference). The Tigers host Texas A&M next weekend, with a win clinching the SEC’s East Division title.
James Franklin completed 12 of 19 passes for 142 yards and an interception in his first start since a shoulder injury caused him to miss four games.
“I thought he did an outstanding job,” Pinkel said. “The guy hadn’t played in six weeks and there was a lot of pressure on him to play well.”
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for Ole Miss (7-4, 3-4). Bo Wallace threw for 244 yards and an interception, but was battling an illness for much of the game and struggled during the second half.
Donte Moncrief caught six passes for 115 yards, but dropped what would have been a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Ole Miss made three trips to the red zone, but managed just three points.
“It’s impossible to beat a top 10 team when you get in the red zone and don’t score touchdowns or points,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “… If you don’t score some points in the red zone against that team you aren’t going to win.”
It’s the fourth 10-win season for Missouri in the past seven years and was coach Gary Pinkel’s 100th win with the Tigers.
The Tigers’ used a deep running back rotation to slowly wear down the Ole Miss defense. Josey had most of the big plays, but Russell Hansbrough and Murphy combined for 99 more yards, helping Missouri shorten the game in the second half with time-consuming drives.
Missouri jumped out to a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter after a blistering eight-play, 72-yard drive that took less than three minutes. Andrew Baggett added a 33-yard field goal and Murphy scored on a 3-yard run in the second quarter as the Tigers took a 17-3 halftime lead.
The Tigers finished with 485 total yards, including 260 on the ground.
“We’re just a focused team,” Missouri linebacker Andrew Wilson said. “The coaches did a good job keeping us focused. We had a great gameplan. We knew what we had to do.”
Franklin — making his first start since suffering a shoulder injury Oct. 12 — completed 7 of 7 passes for 89 yards in the first half.
The Ole Miss offense had a few opportunities to match Missouri, but kept blowing opportunities in the red zone. The litany of errors included two false start penalties, one blocked field goal attempt and several unsuccessful running plays.
But the Rebels regrouped in the third quarter, pulling within 17-10 on the opening drive of the second half on I’Tavius Mathers’ 45-yard run. The sophomore bounced off a few would-be tacklers and then dashed down the left sideline, outrunning a pair of Mizzou defenders into the end zone.
The momentum was short lived. Missouri responded with an 86-yard touchdown drive that ended on Josey’s second touchdown of the night and the Tigers had a 24-10 lead.
Bo Wallace completed 20 of 28 passes for 172 yards and an interception in the first half, but didn’t start the second half because he was sick. Wallace and backup Barry Brunetti split snaps in the second half, but neither had much success.
Moncrief had a productive night, but his dropped pass in the end zone was a microcosm of the Rebels’ frustrating night. Ole Miss could have cut Missouri’s lead to 24-17 with eight minutes remaining, but instead turned the ball over on downs one play later and Missouri went on to its third straight victory.