OXFORD, Miss. - A business trip is how the No. 8 Missouri Tigers looked at their game with the Mississippi Rebels Saturday night.
Needing to win their final two games to secure a spot in the Southeastern Conference title game next month, the Tigers took another step toward reaching that goal by defeating the Rebels 24-10.
Saturday's win in front of 61,198 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium featured another solid, if not spectacular, performance from the Tigers' defense. Missouri (10-1 overall, 6-1 in the SEC) also pounded the Rebels (7-4, 3-4) on the ground, gaining 205 yards in the second half alone.
After holding Ole Miss out of the end zone on a key fourth-down toss with just over eight minutes left in the contest, the Tigers never sent their defense back out on the field, a fact not lost on head coach Gary Pinkel.
"I liked how we finished the game," Pinkel said with a slight smile. "Ole Miss is a very good football team. There were a lot of plays that happened in that game, critical plays that happened at different times by our offense and defense. We were fortunate we found a way to win the game.
"To say that I'm proud of my team and my staff would be an understatement. They battle, they battle, every time they play they battle. They prepare well, they focus at a very, very high level."
How each team fared in the red zone was the biggest subplot of the contest. The Tigers were 4-for-4 in the red zone in the contest, while the Rebels were just 1-for-3. Senior linebacker Andrew Wilson thought his teammates played with a lot of poise and focus, instead of letting the fact that it was a "must win" get in the back of their minds.
"We were focused all week and we had a great gameplan," Wilson said. "The gameplan was really awesome for this game and we executed. Our focus really increased when we got to the red zone and we really studied the red zone hard all week because we knew it was important in this game.
"It was great to stand on the sidelines those last eight minutes of the game, the offensive line dominated."
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said he was disappointed that his team didn't have a chance to win the game at the end. A week after the Rebels set a new school record in total yards, Freeze gave credit to the Tigers for limiting his unit to just 378 yards and one touchdown.
"They're a very good football team and take you out of a lot of things," Freeze said. "They're very good on the offensive and defensive lines. We needed to play a good game and I don't think we played good enough.
"We had missed opportunities in the red zone, whether it be a bad call or a drop or a step out of bounds by that far. The first time down (into the red zone) we had things scripted like we like and we had an injury and we didn't get communicated two plays before and had a timeout. No excuses, we just didn't play well."
Ole Miss free safety Cody Prewitt, who led both teams with 12 tackles, said there were too many mistakes to pull the upset.
"They're a really good team and we made one too many mistakes," Prewitt said. "There were a couple of plays where we didn't fill our gap like we should have and they were able to get a cut on us or jump to a different gap. I thought we were a little anxious trying to make a play."
All of Missouri's touchdowns came on the ground, the first time the Tigers' earned a win in the SEC without throwing a touchdown pass since last year's game against Kentucky. Henry Josey led the Tigers with 95 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, while Marcus Murphy finished with 16 carries for 67 yards and the other rushing touchdown.
Missouri quarterback James Franklin, making his first start since being injured at Georgia on Oct. 12, finished 12-for-19 for 142 yards. Maty Mauk got a series by design, according to Pinkel, and finished 3-for-7 for 83 yards. He led the Tigers' on a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive in the second quarter.
Missouri, which hosts No. 9 Texas A&M in its season finale, never trailed as it opened the game with an impressive eight-play, 72-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 4-yard run by Josey. Josey capped the scoring in the contest when he crashed into the end zone at the 6:56 mark of the third quarter on a 10-yard rush, capping an eight-play, 85-yard scoring drive.
Ole Miss got as close as seven points two separate times, the first following a 33-yard field goal from Andrew Ritter with 4:06 left in the first half and then again early in the third quarter on a 45-yard touchdown run by I'Tavius Mathers.
NOTES: Pinkel won his 100th game as Missouri's head coach, improving his record to 100-62. ... The Tigers are 10-1 for the first time since the 2007 season when they went 11-1. ... The Tigers are now 5-0 in road games this year for the first time since the 1979 season.