Columbia is at its best during football game weekends, and the town might reach its peak on Homecoming weekend, the annual celebration of all things Mizzou. The years melt away for alumni returning to familiar old locations.
This year the Tigers put on a show for the big Homecoming crowd, winning 38-27 against the Ole Miss Rebels. Missouri (5-1, 2-0 in SEC play) notched its fifth straight win, and surged into first place in the SEC East division as Florida lost at LSU and Georgia had a stunning home loss to South Carolina.
Missouri even weathered some early misfortune, as Ole Miss (3-4, 2-2 in SEC) took advantage of the Tigers muffing a punt, scoring a touchdown for an early 7-0. But Missouri just went back to work, quietly confident in their football. Missouri put together a 62-yard field goal drive, a 65-yard touchdown drive (but missed the extra point) and a 60-yard field goal drive to take a 12-7 lead.
Ole Miss responded with a good drive in the final minutes of the first half, down near the Tiger goal line. The Rebels got stopped inches short of a touchdown on third down. Seconds before the half ended, the underdog Rebels went for it on fourth down. The sellout crowd, Missouri’s first crowd over 60,000 in four years, stood and roared before the play, yelling even louder when the Tiger defense stuffed another run and forced a turnover on downs. The loudspeakers played “Shout,” and the fans danced and celebrated.
It was that kind of night for Missouri, and the Tigers led 35-14 after three quarters, and then surviving one last comeback effort from the Rebels for the 38-27 win.
Missouri’s offense had a good day, with Kelly Bryant throwing for over 300 yards and Larry Rountree rushing for 126. Dawson Downing had an electrifying 54-yard run, and Jonathan Johnson had 8 receptions for 110 yards. The Tigers have a variety of options on offense.
Now, after five straight home games, Missouri travels to Nashville on Saturday to face Vanderbilt (3 p.m. on SEC Network). Missouri is a big favorite here, as the Commodores (1-5, 0-3 in SEC) have had a tough start to the season. Vandy is coming off a disastrous 34-10 home loss to UNLV, and a 31-6 loss to Ole Miss the week before. The Commodores are scoring just 18.0 points per game, 119th in the nation. Maybe even more troubling, coach Derek Mason is known for his defense, but Vanderbilt is giving up 36.8 points per game. Vandy fans have to hope this is a rebuilding season.
Missouri lost its only other road game this year, at Wyoming, but Vanderbilt does not have a very intimidating home stadium, and there should be a lot of Tiger fans there. It’s fun to go to the Music City, especially when your team will most likely win.
Much of football success involves keeping losing teams losing, and Missouri will look to do that on Saturday.