COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri scored touchdowns in all three phases in the first quarter Saturday as the Tigers’ special teams stood out especially in the 50-0 win over Southeast Missouri. Midway through the first quarter, Richaud Floyd returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown, his first return TD since 2017 and the third of his career.
“When I hit the sideline, I saw a sea of black, all my teammates in front of me,” Floyd said. “Then, I saw the punter, and I was like, ‘I made it this far, I can’t get tackled by the punter.’ All I was thinking was getting to the end zone.”
Floyd’s time at Mizzou has been plagued by injuries. He missed the first six games of the 2018 season after breaking his leg in training camp. He came back for homecoming against Memphis but only played in five games before taking a hard hit on a punt return at Tennessee that drew a targeting penalty.
“He’s as good of a teammate as we’ve got,” Mizzou coach Barry Odom said, “and I was glad to see him have some success.”
Floyd’s healthy return bodes well for a special teams group that underperformed last year. Mizzou ranked 129 out of 130 FBS teams in punt return average last season with just 50 yards on two returns. Floyd’s long return alone should help prevent the Tigers from repeating history. While he moved from receiver to defensive back in the spring, Floyd showed Saturday he’s still able to make an impact on special teams.
Tucker McCann, who has taken on the role of punter in addition to his usual job as kicker, impressed with two 62-yard punts in the first half. He also drilled a 44-yard field goal at the end of the first half. McCann’s busy first half also included a blocked PAT.
“(McCann is) playing really, really well, and the workload hasn’t proved to be too much,” Odom said. “That’s what I was worried about, and it hasn’t really messed up his swing on field goal or extra point opportunities. … I think his game’s gotten better with the workload.”
Mizzou’s punt block unit nearly made one of the half’s biggest plays when backup running back Jerney Jones almost blocked a SEMO punt in the end zone late in the second quarter but instead bowled over punter Jake Reynolds and received a 15-yard penalty for roughing the kicker to extend the Redhawk series.
For the second straight game, a Missouri linebacker visited the end zone with an interception. Last week it was Nick Bolton, who had two picks against West Virginia. On Saturday it was Cale Garrett, who dropped into coverage on SEMO’s third play from scrimmage and snagged Daniel Santacatarina’s hurried pass, then raced 27 yards for his first career touchdown. It was Garrett’s fourth career interception and first since a one-handed grab at Georgia in 2017. Just three games into the season, it’s the first time Mizzou’s had multiple interceptions returned for touchdowns since 2016, when cornerback Aarion Penton and linebacker Joey Burkett brought back picks for scores.
The Tigers had two first-time starters on the offensive line with Case Cook getting the nod over Larry Borom at left guard and Bobby Lawrence starting over Hyrin White at right tackle. Odom said Lawrence and Cook were better in practice this past week.
Lawrence, a monstrous redshirt freshman at 6-foot-8, was flagged for being illegally downfield on a passing play on the game’s first series, but held his own on the edge the rest of the night.
“Rookie mistake, I guess,” Lawrence said. “I tried to get back as quick as possible, but (the official) came up to me and said, ‘Yeah, you can’t do that.’”
The changes along the line continued in the third quarter when left tackle Yasir Durant left the game on the first series with a neck injury. Odom said he could have stayed in the game if the score were closer.
Freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak made his college debut early in the fourth quarter but didn’t attempt a pass. By NCAA rule, he’s allowed to play as many as four games without counting the year of eligibility. … Missouri was at risk of losing starting safety Tyree Gillespie for the first half of Saturday’s SEC opener against South Carolina when he was flagged for targeting the first series of the third quarter, but after a replay review the penalty was called back. … Cornerback Jarvis Ware, who missed last week’s game with a sprained ankle, was back in uniform and played off the bench. Defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat, sidelined since the first practice of preseason camp with an elbow injury, missed his third straight game. … Former All-American receiver Jeremy Maclin was recognized on the field during the first half. Jay Maclin, his younger cousin and Kirkwood High receiver, was among the Mizzou commitments down on the field before kickoff. … Mizzou improved to 18-0 all-time against teams from the Football Championship Subdivision, while SEMO dropped to 1-24 all-time against Football Bowl Subdivision teams and 0-8 against Power 5 opponents.