COLUMBIA - Missouri's first trip through the Southeastern Conference didn't take the road the Tigers had envisioned.
Coming off four blowout wins in the non-conference schedule against an underwhelming lineup, the Tigers open of up their second round of SEC play Saturday at Vanderbilt (6:30 p.m., KQFX-TV).
The Tigers are hoping Round 2 is a little less bumpy.
"One of our main goals was to go undefeated in the non-conference play and that's a goal that we accomplished," center Evan Boehm said. "Now it's time to start back at 0-0."
Missouri put up impressive numbers in the first four games, especially on offense. The Tigers rank seventh nationally in total offense at 549 yards per game and eighth in scoring at 48 points per game.
"It is a new phase in the season," running back Marcus Murphy said. "Finished off 4-0 in the preseason like we wanted. We've just got to come out and keep executing in the SEC."
The Tigers got off to a rough start in SEC play last season and never recovered. They dropped their first three conference games by an average of 19 points before bouncing back to beat Kentucky. They ended up 2-6 in league play.
"We still have that bad taste in our mouth, even though we've done all right these first couple of games," Boehm said. "But at the same time, we've got to get ready and we've got to get better each and every time when we play."
Three of Missouri's next four games are against Top 20 teams.
"We'll see overall from our non-conference schedule to our conference schedule, there's no question about it, the competition gets tougher, more competitive," head coach Gary Pinkel said.
Only time will tell how much of Missouri's strong non-conference start was a product of who they played or how good they really are.
But no matter what, Missouri has an understanding of what lies ahead.
"Obviously the tests are going to get bigger," Pinkel said.
Pinkel said he reviewed cornerback Randy Ponder's hit against Arkansas State that led to a targeting penalty. He said he thought it was the correct call. Ponder was ejected from the game.
Pinkel also said there could be changes to the rule next season, such as if an ejection is overturned, the penalty is also overturned. Currently the 15-yard penalty is not overturned even if the replay shows the targeting call was incorrect.
Pinkel said he could see the length of the ejection changed as well. Anyone ejected in the first half is only suspended for the rest of the game. A player ejected in the second half must also set out the entire first half of the team's next game.
"If you get kicked out of the first part of a quarter, you lose a lot more than somebody else who gets out on the last play of the game," Pinkel said.
Notes: Missouri's game Oct. 12 game at Georgia will kick off at 11 a.m. and will air on ESPN. ... Defensive tackle Matt Hoch, who sat out against Arkansas State with turf toe, is expected to play Saturday against Vanderbilt. ... Michael Sam was named the SEC defensive lineman of the week. He had a career-high three sacks and a forced fumble in the game. It's the third time this season a Missouri player has won the award (Markus Golden, Kony Ealy).