SAN ANTONIO — Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon remembers what the Tigers’ practices were like a year ago, when they were preparing to face Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
“Last year, it was all smiles and all fun and games,” he said. “We were 11-2, sitting there and thinking we should have been somewhere else. It was all fun and games, we were focused to show the world we should have been in a different bowl game.”
Missouri (9-4) vs. Northwestern (9-3)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday
WHERE: San Antonio
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM
That’s not the case now, though Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel insists the Tigers haven’t changed how they prepare. But instead of taking a lighthearted approach to Monday night's Alamo Bowl, Missouri is preparing as if its entire season hinges on its game against Northwestern.
“A lot of these coaches around here, they’ve got the fire,” Weatherspoon said. “They really want this game. I’ve never seen the coaches be on us so hard during a regular season week. It’s been good for me, because it’s made me practice real hard.”
Weatherspoon said Tigers defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is leading the hardline, no-nonsense approach among the coaches. That’s fitting, because Eberflus has received most of the criticism for the play of his unit this season, which has surrendered 28 points or more in six of the Tigers’ 13 games, including their four losses.
While Pinkel was awarded a lucrative contract extension and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen was named the next head coach of Wyoming, fans and analysts have questioned Eberflus after his defense, which returned 10 starters, was unable to play at the same level it did a year ago.
Off the field, Eberflus has a calm, business-like manner, but Weatherspoon says, while Eberflus has been business-like, he has been anything but calm on the field.
“He’s more intense, that’s the thing,” Weatherspoon said. “That’s the type of guy he is, when his back is against the wall, he’ll come out swinging. He’s way intense right now, you wouldn’t want to be around him right now. He’s ready to win this game, and he wants to dominate.”
He is not the only one. Although Weatherspoon said he has never seen the coaches this intense, he wouldn’t say that the coaches want to win more than the players do.
Missouri safety William Moore took it a step further. Without hesitation, he said the Tigers players want to win this game badly.
“I’m going to have to go with my seniors,” Moore said. “It’s so important to the seniors from the expectations we set. I know how my class is so close together. We really want it for us, for AO (Aaron O’Neal).”
That might be why Moore said he hasn’t noticed a real difference in the team’s preparation, other than warmer weather in San Antonio than in Dallas. Last season, the Tigers entered their game trying to prove they had been snubbed by the BCS. This year, the Tigers’ mission is to prove that last season was a program going to the next level, not a one-year joyride.
“We’ve got something to prove this year,” Moore said. “We’re hungry. It’s going to be business. We haven’t forgotten what we’re here for.”
Even Pinkel admitted that this game offered a chance to regain respect.
“We work very hard around here to earn not only respect in the Big 12, but nationally,” Pinkel said. “We took a little bit of a hit last game, and we’ve got a chance to earn it back. This is the top priority from my standpoint of this game.”
If that means a different approach is needed, that’s fine with Weatherspoon.
“I kind of like the all-business approach,” he said. “It’s not fun being out there and getting chewed out all the time, but it’s going to serve us well. If we go out there and play ball the way we prepared this week, it’s going to be great.”