Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk, left, scrambles away from Tennessee defensive lineman Jacques Smith (55) during the second half Saturday in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Gary Pinkel reminded Missouri players coming off a bitter loss that an SEC title game was still in their grasp.
The 10th-ranked Tigers heard their coach loud and clear.
“Why in the world would you ever be thinking about last week’s game when there’s so much out there,” Pinkel said after getting a dominant and resilient effort in a 31-3 victory over Tennessee Saturday night. “A little common sense here. Are you kidding me?”
He also told them to savor the start to their season and added he’d “take that the rest of my career. Forever.”
Players were loose. They grabbed another big lead, and then they built on it.
“We’re just kids out there tossing the ball around,” offensive guard Max Copeland said. “It’s recess time out there.
“We wanted to show we were still going to have fun doing what we do.”
Maty Mauk threw three touchdown passes and ran 114 yards on 13 carries for the Tigers (8-1, 4-1 SEC), who responded smartly a week after squandering a 17-point cushion in the fourth quarter of a double-overtime loss to South Carolina. Andrew Baggett banged another chip-shot field goal attempt off the left goalpost, eerily similar to his game-ending misfire a week earlier, but instead of heartbreak they still took a 24-3 cushion into halftime.
“I saw about seven of his teammates go right to him, put their arms around him,” Pinkel said. “It’s a lonely position. It’s like golf. You can’t hide it.”
Missouri forced three turnovers and committed none in Mauk’s best game in three starts in place of injured James Franklin. Mauk threw touchdown passes to Dorial Green-Beckham, L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas in the first half and Missouri totaled 339 yards rushing with a 6.3-yard average.
“When you give up 300 rushing yards, I think that pretty much tells the story,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
Franklin (shoulder sprain) warmed up before the game and Pinkel said he could return next week at Kentucky.
Tennessee (4-5, 1-4) is 0-4 on the road, all but one of them blowouts, and fell hopeless behind just like a week earlier when No. 1 Alabama was ahead 35-0 at the break. The Volunteers have lost 19 in a row on the road and mustered only a 51-yard field goal by Matt Palardy in the second quarter.
“Honestly, I don’t think we really have trouble,” said Vols wide receiver Pig Brown, who had 11 catches for 89 yards. “It’s just really executing, that’s probably the main thing.”
Freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs was intercepted twice and lost a fumble in his first career start in place of injured Justin Worley, out indefinitely after thumb surgery. Tennessee was 2 for 13 on third down.
“I think he’s going to do nothing but get better and better,” Jones said. “I was extremely encouraged by what I saw from him.”
E.J. Gaines and Braylon Webb had interceptions for Missouri and Matt White had a fumble recovery on a strip by Darvin Ruise. Missouri has forced a turnover in 39 consecutive games, the longest streak in the nation.
Mauk entered with 22 yards rushing on 21 carries. His 27-yard scramble to the 11 with one second left in the half led to Baggett’s 29-yard miss. He had carries of 19 and 8 yards plus a 12-yard completion to set up the lone score of the second half, a 26-yard run by Russell Hansbrough.
“The great thing about Maty, he always has a smile on his face,” Washington said. “You have to enjoy it right now and I think that’s what he’s doing.
“He’s leading our team and I think he’s doing a great job.”
Green-Beckham did most of the work on a 9-yard catch, traversing the field off a dump-off pass. Washington was alone in the back of the end zone on a 26-yard catch and timing clicked on Lucas’ 40-yard scoring reception.
Dobbs had 101 yards passing and 43 rushing in the first half, dulled by two turnovers. Washington was alone in the end zone on a 26-yard catch set up by Gaines’ team-leading interception to make it 17-0 midway through the second quarter.