COLUMBIA, Mo. — It wasn't a dominant performance, but the Missouri Tigers did enough to win their season opener for the first time since 2018.
Missouri had a steady offensive performance while the defense had a couple of clutch plays to secure a 34-24 win Saturday against Central Michigan at Faurot Field.
The season-opening win was the Tigers' first against an FBS opponent since a 17-3 win against Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 3, 2011.
Missouri (1-0) was outgained 465-462, but a couple of clutch defensive plays were the difference on an afternoon where the Tigers did just enough to get by on each side of the ball while the Chippewas stayed with them step for step for 60 minutes.
The home crowd of 46,327 might have been spooked after the Chippewas went up 14-7 when Lew Nichols had an 18-yard rushing score, but 17 unanswered points from the Tigers in the second and third quarters gave them a 24-14 lead they would not relinquish.
"There's going to be all kinds of things we've got to clean up and all kinds of things we'll go back into the tape and fix, but man I'm really proud of the way our team responded after being down 14-7," Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said.
In the middle of that momentum swing, quarterback Connor Bazelak got the ball with 54 seconds left and orchestrated a six-play, 34-yard drive that ended with sophomore kicker Harrison Mevis stepping out for a 53-yard field goal with two seconds to go before halftime.
The Chippewas elected to ice the second-year starter, who was puzzled by that decision, with a timeout.
"That was kind of a dumb move," Mevis said. "I don't know what they did there.
"I already know I'm gonna make the kick. So realistically, it's just keeping my head down, getting straight up. I know it's gonna make it if I do those things. So them icing me gives me more time to think about that kind of stuff, and I see that as an advantage for me."
Mevis buried the kick to put Missouri up 17-14 at the half while making his other field goal attempt in the fourth quarter and all four of his extra points.
"The field goal right before half gave us a big lift," Drinkwitz said.
Tyler Badie was the team's workhorse who gave glimmers of light during a mostly gloomy afternoon. In his first game replacing Larry Rountree as the starting running back, Badie took advantage of his increased workload with 25 carries for 203 yards and a score.
"Tyler's an electric player," Drinkwitz said. "I'm really proud of him. He does a nice job, he kind of made us go today. We obviously know that he's one of those guys that we've got to do a great job of finding ways for him to touch the football."
Badie also caught three passes for 40 yards, one a 30-yard score on a screen pass. In total, Badie had 29 touches for 243 yards and two of Missouri's four touchdowns.
To top it all off, he iced the game with a 69-yard run with a 1:28 left.
"You mean the one where I got caught?" Badie asked.
Yes, it did end with multiple Chippewas catching Badie while he had nothing but green turf in front of him, but the run also set up a late 44-yard field goal by Mevis with 59 seconds left that put Missouri up two possessions and finally put the game to bed.
"I was tired," Badie said. "I'm not gonna lie, I was real tired, but it was just being available for my teammates."
That late-game carry aside, Badie was able to withstand a large workload similar to the ones Rountree had last year and showed he can carry that load for the offense going forward.
On the defensive side, newcomers were the stars of the show. Blaze Alldredge had 3.5 sacks, the most for a Missouri player since 2006, and six tackles for loss to lead a unit that settled in after a rough first drive to get back on track with relentless pressure on the quarterback.
Each team scored a touchdown within the first seven plays from scrimmage, but after that, each defense settled down.
The team had nine total sacks, with the final one being of the walk-off variety from freshman Mehki Wingo. With no timeouts left, Central Michigan quarterback Jacob Sirmon hit the turf near midfield and the clock ran out before the offense could run another play.
Akayleb Evans, a transfer from Tulsa, made the first interception of the game at the Missouri 47-yard line to snuff out a Chippewas' drive as soon as it crossed midfield. The other pick came from Jaylon Carlies, who was making his first appearance at safety after switching from cornerback in the offseason.
With 10:17 left in the third, Carlies tracked a ball at the four and got his feet down on the sideline and Central Michigan came up empty in the red zone.
"That's kind of the name of the game for us defensively," Drinkwitz said. "We've got to force turnovers, negative yardage plays."
Drinkwitz emphasized tackling improvement is needed on defense and that third downs, where Missouri was 1-of-10, as some of many issues to correct before the team's next game. The Tigers travel to Lexington for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday against Southeastern Conference division rival Kentucky.
"It's much better to correct those things being 1-0 than it is being 0-1," Drinkwitz said.