COLUMBIA — After a historically bad defensive performance last week in a loss to Tennessee, Missouri needed to bounce back.
The team's Homecoming game turned out to be a good remedy. The Tigers jumped out ahead early Saturday and did the bare minimum in the second half to hold on and beat North Texas 48-35 at Faurot Field.
Tyler Badie lead the offense with 226 total yards and three scores and a defense that gave up 45 points in the first half last week, and 62 total, had a mixed bag instead of another disaster.
"(Badie's) probably the least talked about great player in the country right now," Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said.
"I know my goal at the end of the day is to be the best running back in this conference and the best in the NCAA period," Badie said. "So every day, I just work to be that."
The defense forced three turnovers, including a pick-6 by Mekhi Wingo, to give Missouri (3-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) enough to hold off a couple of late scores to get back to .500 even though North Texas put up 35 points and outgained the Tigers 491-474.
"It wasn't perfect, but we didn't think we're going to transform into the '85 Bears overnight," Drinkwitz said. "We're working towards it. I thought we took a big step in the process."
North Texas managed only 112 yards in the first half, with scores from DeAndrey Torrey and Isaiah Johnson being the extent of the damage from the Mean Green offense.
Missouri didn't make a lot of changes to the starting lineup after opting to not release a depth chart and put all the spots up for grabs again this week. Chad Bailey started at linebacker next to Devin Nicholson instead of Blaze Alldredge, the starter for the first five games of the season. The freshman Wingo got the start at defensive tackle.
"There's no strategy. There's no motivational ploy," Drinkwitz said. "There's just reality. Whoever practices the best is going to play. Period."
Those new starters played well for a defense that looked much improved in the first three quarters, albeit against one of the doormats of a Group of Five conference.
North Texas had a score to start the second half and was driving in MU territory twice in the third with chances to make a game of it in the second half.
Consecutive sacks by Trajan Jeffcoat and Isaiah McGuire forced the Mean Green to punt it away with 4:22 left in the third before Shawn Robinson stopped North Texas quarterback Austin Aune dead in his tracks in the backfield on fourth down with 29 seconds left in the third.
The defense got the day started with a Kris Abrams-Draine interception on the sideline after a Missouri three-and-out started the afternoon. Abrams-Draine's pick set up Badie's first score from 12 yards out with 10:37 left in the first.
"I thought we did a nice job in the first half playing complementary football," Drinkwitz said.
That started a streak of four straight drives that ended with touchdowns for the Missouri offense. Badie caught a 3-yard TD pass from quarterback Connor Bazelak with 4:14 left in the first to give MU a 14-0 lead.
North Texas answered that with a 4-yard run by Johnson to cut the Missouri lead in half early in the second, but a 41-yard deep ball from Bazelak, who finished 21-for-32 for 160 yards, to J.J. Hester and a 52-yard scoring run by Badie put Missouri up 28-7 with 5:57 left in the second.
The defense got another stop and the Tigers got a fifth straight score, this one a 49-yard field goal that was kicker Harrison Mevis' 15th straight make, to go up 31-7 at the half.
In the second half, the defense's timely stops let the offense off the hook while it sputtered. Missouri was scoreless in the third with only one first down and a trio of three-and-outs, but Mevis hit his 16th straight field goal before Wingo returned an interception off a tipped pass 40 yards for a score to put MU up 41-14 with 11:39 to go.
"I always thought that I'm a running back at heart so that was my chance right there," Wingo said.
The Tigers continued to coast the rest of the way from there, but things got a little nervy with 21 points from North Texas in the final 8:56.
"Offensively we just didn't play very well in the third quarter," Drinkwitz said. "We weren't able to sustain drives and then gave up some explosive plays on defense late in the game which we'll have to go back and correct."
Aune found Jason Pirtle for a 22-yard score with 8:56 left for the Mean Green, which outgained Missouri 379-147 in the second half. Aune found Roderic Burns for a 52-yard score with 5:26 left to make it 41-28.
Dawson Downing answered those scores with a 60-yard touchdown run before Aune found Damon Ward Jr. for a 77-yard score to make the final 48-35.
Missouri returns to SEC play with an 11 a.m. matchup Saturday against Texas A&M at Faurot Field.