NASHVILLE, Tenn. — James Franklin threw for four touchdowns and Missouri squashed any doubts about its early season schedule with a 51-28 victory at Vanderbilt Saturday.
The Tigers moved to 5-0 and opened conference play without missing a beat in the program’s first trip to Nashville as a member of the Southeastern Conference. Vanderbilt, which won the last match up 19-15 in Columbia, Mo., last year, slipped to 0-3 in conference play and 3-3 overall.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who opened a season 5-0 for the fifth time in 13 seasons, credited his veteran quarterback for guiding the aggressive Tiger offense yet again.
“James has been around a little bit. If he had stayed healthy last year, he would have played like this,” Pinkel said. “This doesn’t surprise me. I loved him last year. I’m very proud of him … He is playing with some of the best quarterbacks, I think it’s fair to say that.”
Franklin guided Missouri on scoring drives on the first six Tiger possessions, which resulted in three touchdowns and three field goals. Missouri out-gained the Commodores 285-97 in the first half in taking a 30-7 lead.
Franklin finished 19-for-28 for 278 yards passing and added another 63 yards on the ground.
“He is a great quarterback. He is an exceptional athlete,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “(We) couldn’t pressure the quarterback … You have to frustrate him before he goes through his progressions, and we weren’t able to do that.”
Even when Vanderbilt managed to move the ball in the third quarter, the Tigers answered each score with one of their own to maintain plenty of cushion.
Missouri’s spread attack exploited the slant route consistently, looking like a conveyer belt of receivers rotating through the middle for target practice for Franklin. The senior quarterback also made use of his tight ends for the first time this season. Eric Waters caught three balls for 39 yards and a touchdown.
“We feel like we can beat anybody when we come out like that,” Waters said of the Tigers start. “All the hard work we put in really pays off when we can translate it to the field. We’ve been putting in weeks of hard work, trying to get to that next level and I think we’re getting closer.”
When linebacker Kentrell Brothers intercepted Vanderbilt’s Austyn Carta-Samuels midway through the first quarter, it gave the Tigers their 35th consecutive game with a takeaway. Missouri is averaging 2.5 interceptions per game.
Coach Franklin apologized to the Vanderbilt fans during the post-game press conference.
“We got beat up front,” he said.
The 51 points was the most allowed by Vanderbilt since Florida ran up 55 points in 2010.
Samuels struggled to 48 yards in the first half before moving the ball with ease in the second half with the tigers spotted a three-score lead. He found Jordan Matthews for a record-setting touchdown catch less than three minutes into the second half.
Matthews, who also overcame a slow start, posted 123 yards on seven catches and set the school record for touchdowns and receiving yards in the losing effort.
The senior has 2,990 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns with the Commodores.
Samuels also rushed for a 2-yard touchdown in the third as Vanderbilt produced a pair of scoring drives. Despite the offense, trading scores kept Missouri in front.
The Tigers had the final touchdown as well on Franklin’s longest completion of the night – a 42-yard touchdown pass to L’Damian Washington. Washington also scored the game’s first touchdown on a 26-yard catch from Franklin.
Vanderbilt heads into a bye week before facing No. 6 Georgia, which escaped at Tennessee 34-31 in overtime.
Already matching its win output from a year ago, Missouri continues its gauntlet of SEC games at Georgia next week.