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October 6, 2013
Practice keeps Mizzou perfect
NASHVILLE -- The seeds for Missouri's 51-28 win over Vanderbilt were planted during the last week of practice.
Throughout the Tigers' 4-0 start to the season, offensive coordinator Josh Henson played the role of tough-love father. He was pleased with the wins, with the yardage, with the points. But he demanded more.
The word "execution" has been Henson's talking point. He wanted his offense to execute better in the first half of games, where missed opportunities kept games close against Toledo and Arkansas State.
Missouri executed nearly flawlessly in the first half against the Commodores. The Tigers ran out to a 20-0 lead with touchdown passes by James Franklin to L'Damian Washington and Eric Waters broken up only by Andrew Baggett field goals. The Tigers ended the half with a 30-7 advantage.
The only time Missouri didn't score in the first two quarters, the only time Missouri didn't cross Vanderbilt's 30-yard line came with 21 seconds left in the half.
Franklin took a knee to send the game to intermission.
The reason for the boot-to-throat first half? A week of practice.
"I thought we had a better week of practice, I do," Henson said. "I told the guys on Thursday, 'cause I told them the last two weeks before that that I didn't think practice was very good. Not that it was bad, it just wasn't our best.
"Coach Pinkel talks about that you're going to play like you practice, and I think it showed on the field tonight."
It showed in the stat book. Franklin completed 19-of-28 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns. Missouri's rushing attack -- the "four-headed monster," according to Waters -- ran for 245 yards on 43 carries, with three players over 60 yards on the ground.
At one point in the fourth quarter, Missouri's leading receiver (Dorial Green-Beckham) and leading rusher (Russell Hansbrough) entering Saturday combined for five touches and 46 yards. At the same time, the Tigers had 455 yards and 44 points.
"We have to finish strong every single day, we have to come out from start to finish in practice and finish hard," Waters said. "Thursday's practice are crucial for us, so we put together a good Thursday, build confidence in all the coaches and ourselves and then we go out and executed.
"That's what it really comes down to. Thursday practice. Once you got the game plan down, you know you're ready to play, and that's it. You go out and execute."
Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy led Missouri with 69 yards a piece on the ground, with Murphy's coming on only four carries. Josey, who had two touchdowns, said the build-up to Saturday's game felt different, at least for him.
"I don't know, just the emotions that were going on about this game through the whole week," Josey said. "I mean, me watching last year and seeing how they played and the also watching it on film and seeing how we played last year. It's just -- we had to take a different approach.
"I would say this is one of our best practices of the week. It was just -- very crisp."
The final product of a week's preparation were 51 points and 523 yards. It could have been more, but Gary Pinkel disengaged his team's killswitch inside Vanderbilt's 10-yard line with under two minutes remaining.
The passing game showed no hesitation in attacking Vanderbilt's talented, experienced secondary, as Franklin completed passes of 23 and 26 yards on the first drive.
"We just felt like some of our base passing concepts gave us a chance to get open and win," Henson said. "I think our receivers are playing better. Each week, they're getting better, and they're getting better with the little details of route running. It helped us obviously execute at a pretty high level tonight."
"We were, in all honesty, we were trying to take advantage of their blitz scheme," Waters said. "Other than that, they've got great players, we've got great players. We go at them with 100-percent and we see what happens."
What happened was a 23-point victory in Missouri's first SEC game. What happened was nearly flawless execution by Missouri's offense. What happened was Missouri matching last year's win total in seven fewer games.
What happens next?
A scene following the last whistle answers that question. Henson, Pat Washington, Alex Grinch and Cornell Ford -- Missouri's assistants who sit in the coach's box high above the field during each game -- walked to the north elevator in Vanderbilt's Stadium press area. Mainly in silence, the coaches waited for the elevator to return after bringing Vanderbilt assistants down to the field. Washington, Missouri's newest assistant, let out a laugh and gave Grinch a high five.
"This is the saddest group I've seen after a win," Washington said.
Without much emotion, Henson responded.
"Next game. The next one."
Missouri travels to Athens to face sixth-ranked Georgia in seven days.
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