COLUMBIA - It appeared that the Missouri football team had its formula working perfectly in the first quarter last Saturday at Baylor: Score a couple touchdowns, squash any upset hopes and move on from there.
But the Bears played well enough to almost upset the Tigers. This week, Kansas State, another desperate team with nothing to lose, visits Missouri. If nothing else, the Tigers appear to have learned the importance of finishing an opponent.
Kansas State (4-5, 1-4 )
at No. 13 Missouri (7-2, 3-2)
WHEN: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Memorial Stadium
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM
"We got off to a fast start last week, and then a 14-point swing happened," Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel said Monday. "We've got to do a better job coming out of halftime, we've got to score. The last two games on offense, we haven't done that at all."
It was a strange change for a team that had preferred to discuss only their next game. Instead of talking about nothing but Kansas State, the Tigers still clearly had their inability to finish off Baylor on their minds.
"You've got to finish it off," Tigers running back Derrick Washington said. "When a team's playing with nothing to lose, they're going to do everything they can to try to beat us. Last week, we started off strong, but we had three turnovers. If you have three turnovers, any team can stay with you."
In recent years, turnovers against Kansas State have been a problem for Missouri because of the Wildcats' ability to turn them into points. Kansas State has scored a non-offensive touchdown in each of its past four games against Missouri, returning two interceptions, a fumble and a blocked punt for scores.
It's a common occurrence for the Wildcats, who have scored 22 defensive and special teams touchdowns in just under three years under coach Ron Prince.
"There's no question about it (being important)," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said of taking care of the football against Kansas State. "The proof is in the numbers. They do a great job."
Where the Wildcats don't do a great job is defending the run. In last week's game against Kansas, the Jayhawks' running back Jake Sharp ran all over the Wildcats, scoring four touchdowns and gaining 181 rushing yards.
Kansas wasn't the only team that Kansas State couldn't stop on the ground. The Wildcats have given up 200 or more rushing yards five times this year, and have not held a Division I-A team under 100 rushing yards.
That's a good sign for Washington, who has 13 touchdowns this season and wouldn't mind recreating Sharp's performance.
"Hopefully we can do the same," Washington said. "We're going to look at that and see how they exploited them, and we'll try to take advantage of it."
Although Missouri prefers to throw the football, it has shown no hesitation in switching to a run-based attack if that becomes the best way to win.
"If teams give us the run, we'll take what they give us," Daniel said. "When you blitz (like Kansas State did), there's always a gap left open, and Jake was able to hit it hard."
OUT FOR A LONG DRIVE: The Missouri offense's specialty is a quick strike, but lately, opponents have forced the Tigers to grind it out more and use more plays to score.
That's just fine with Daniel and the offense.
"They don't hurt us," Daniel said. "It's keeping the other offense off the field and keeping our defense off the field, which gets them some rest. If we can have those long drives, we like it. But of course, if we can get big drives, we'll take those as well."
NO RESPONSE FROM BIG 12: Pinkel said he had yet to receive a response from the conference about two disputed passes that were ruled incomplete. Pinkel thought they were backward passes and should have been fumbles, but the plays could not be reviewed.
"The one that was closer, we sent that in today," Pinkel said. "We'll see what happens."
EYES ON THE PRIZE: Focus has been an issue at times for the Missouri players, but not for the Missouri coach.
"My focus was exceptional," Pinkel said.
Pinkel went on to say that he thought his team focused well against Baylor, and its problems stemmed from Baylor executing its game plan and getting momentum.
COFFMAN TO PLAY: Pinkel labeled tight end Chase Coffman as questionable with turf toe, but Coffman did his best to erase any thoughts of that.
"It's going to be our last game as seniors at the Zou," he said. "I'll be playing."