EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Missouri ended two long streaks of futility – each more than 760 days in length – in emphatic fashion with a 52-12 win over Connecticut on Saturday night.
The Tigers (3-5) hadn’t won a road game since Sept. 12, 2015, when they beat Arkansas State in Jonesboro, Ark. Seven days later, Missouri beat Connecticut 9-6 at Faurot Field. It hadn’t won back-to-back games in the same season since.
Drew Lock ensured those streaks wouldn’t last another week, completing 31 of 37 passes for 377 yards and five touchdowns before being pulled in the third quarter as Missouri nursed a 40-point lead.
It was Odom’s first true road win at Missouri.
“It was actually my first road win, as well,” said Lock, who was 0 for 10 in road games since becoming the starter Oct. 3, 2015. … “I hate to say I’ve been thinking about it, but it’s definitely been at the back of my mind, just wanting to be able to get on a plane and feel good.”
In four games since the Tigers’ bye week — at Kentucky, at Georgia, vs. Idaho and at Connecticut — Lock has completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,452 yards, 18 touchdowns and two interceptions.
“Starting the season off, you get back into the swing of things,” Lock said. This stretch “kind of reminds me of the last three games we had last year. It just started earlier this year. Just a lot more confident, seeing everything a lot better.”
There were similarities between Saturday’s contest and that defensive struggle between these teams two years ago. While both have lost their identity as defensive juggernauts, the quarterbacks — Lock and the Huskies’ Bryant Shirreffs — were familiar faces, and both games opened with a safety.
In 2015, it was Missouri that scored a safety when Clarence Green blocked a Connecticut punt out of the back of the end zone. The Huskies opened the scoring Saturday when Tigers long snapper Drew Wise launched a snap over punter Corey Fatony and out of the back of the end zone on Missouri’s first drive.
Wise became the Tigers’ go-to long snapper two weeks ago after James Workman struggled in the Kentucky game.
After the opening-drive hiccup, Lock got right to carving the nation’s worst pass defense to pieces. He completed 14 straight passes over the next 17 minutes, including four to J’Mon Moore on Missouri’s second drive. Moore finished that efficient march down the field with a 4-yard score to make it 7-2.
For the third straight week, Albert Okwuegbunam was unguardable over the middle of the field. He scored Missouri’s next two touchdowns on back-to-back drives, snagging a 4-yard slant to make it 14-2 and a 9-yard slant to make it 21-2 in the first quarter. Both were on play-action passes.
The play-action pass over the middle has made Okwuegbunam one of the nation’s most prolific tight ends. He’s caught seven touchdowns this season, more than any other tight end in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and all but one of those scores – a shovel pass against Georgia – have come on that same route.
“I did a pretty good job of staying calm and collected, but definitely I get a little giddy when that play is called,” Okwuegbunam said.
Missouri scored two more times before the intermission and twice in the third quarter. By then, the Tigers were satisfied with the work of their offensive starters, who had created a 45-5 deficit. Missouri ultimately had 68 players see action.
“Offensively, I still think there’s a lot left in the tank to get to,” Odom said. “That side of the ball, the staff, they’ve been creative in finding ways to move the football.”
The Tigers’ defense looked formidable, too, holding Connecticut (3-5) to just 354 yards and 3.8 yards per play. For the second straight week, Missouri held an opponent to under 20 points.
Marcell Frazier, Terez Hall and Terry Beckner all credited A.J. Logan’s return to the lineup at defensive tackle as a big reason for the improvement, as Logan frequently draws double teams from the offensive line. Frazier had one sack and 1½ tackles for loss.
Moore had eight catches for 96 yards, Johnson had five catches for a team-high 128 yards and six other Tigers receivers had at least 15 yards through the air. Ish Witter led the way on the ground with 73 yards and a score on 10 carries.
The win sets up a crucial four-game stretch to close Missouri’s season, starting with next week’s game against Florida. None of the Tigers’ remaining opponents has a winning record, and three wins in four games would secure bowl eligibility.
“We’re talking, forget big picture,” Odom said. “We need to get back home, hopefully before the sun rises, and get to work tomorrow on Florida. If we worry about what’s ahead of that one, that’s of no value for what we’re trying to do as a team.”
UCONN SHALL NOT PASS: The Huskies entered Saturday’s game averaging 300.9 passing yards per game, fourth-most in the American Athletic Conference.
Missouri held Connecticut to just 233 yards passing, the third-lowest figure for the Huskies all season.
The Tigers were much improved defending the ball in the air, breaking up eight passes Saturday after breaking up just 12 passes through the first seven games of the season.
Missouri was also better getting after the quarterback, recording a season-high five sacks. Marcell Frazier, Terry Beckner, Cale Garrett and Logan Cheadle all had one sack, while Anthony Sherrils (making his first start since the Auburn game on Sept. 23) and Brandon Lee each had a half-sack.
RETURN OF McCANN: Missouri kicker Tucker McCann returned to the field for the Tigers against the Huskies, converting a 37-yard field goal in the second quarter and all seven of his extra point attempts.
McCann didn’t play last week due to a violation of team rules. Nic Bartolotta, a transfer from Kansas, hit two field goals and 8 of 9 extra points against Idaho in his place.
Through seven games, McCann has made 7 of 9 field goals (with a long of 43) and 27 of 28 extra points.
WARREN PIECE: Linebacker TJ Warren, who played in all 12 games last season, made his season debut Saturday. He made his first appearance on Missouri’s depth chart last week against Idaho, but did not play. He subbed in at strongside linebacker on the Tigers’ second series against the Huskies and rotated in throughout the game.
Warren finished with two tackles and an interception, the first of his career. He recorded 24 tackles in total last season.