COLUMBIA — It wasn't just who Lorenzo Williams is, but also what he stands for.
The former Missouri defensive lineman, renown as a team leader, helped Missouri to a dominant Cotton Bowl win two seasons ago. And when he came to address the Tigers after their Thursday practice this week, he invoked the memories of what Missouri football had become.
This was a program that had spent all of last season, and much of the one before that, ranked in the top 25. This was a program with 30 victories in the past three seasons. This was a program that doesn't lose home games to Baylor.
So Williams' message was one that Missouri coach Gary Pinkel echoed to his players throughout the week: If anyone thought this was just another game, think again.
"This is a step in preserving what we've built here," Pinkel said.
"We're building a tradition here at Missouri. What we've been doing the last few weeks, to me that's even bigger than anything. I've stuck that in my players' face."
A week after giving Baylor its first win in Big 12 play, Missouri went on the road to Kansas State and made a 38-12 victory look easy against the Big 12 North's first-place team.
And, according to the game's star, did much more than make Missouri bowl eligible.
"We saved the integrity of our program," Danario Alexander said.
Alexander, who topped 200 yards receiving for the second straight week and added three touchdowns, is part of Missouri's senior leadership. They knew exactly what a message from Williams meant.
"Whenever a guy like Lorenzo comes to talk to you, you know it's nut-cutting time. You've got to go out there and put on," senior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said.
Weatherspoon said that Williams' speech was about the notion of playing for "the Mizzou family, everybody who's worn these jerseys, wore these helmets, been involved with the program."
The seniors acknowledged after the game how much of an impact Williams has had on them. So it was easy to know that when Williams had something to say, they were supposed to listen. They were a part of those teams that Williams played on. Their respect for him was evident. The trick was whether Williams' speech permeated the gap between the team's veterans and its younger players. According to Pinkel, Williams did just that.
"We were the most focused I've seen on Thursday and Friday that I've seen since this team's been together," Pinkel said.
Sophomore wide receiver Jerrell Jackson, who had six catches for 78 yards, said after the game that his performance was inspired by what Williams had to say Thursday.
The shared focus and subsequent performance led to a post-game atmosphere that was markedly different from weeks past. Smiles were the standard among the Tigers, and Jackson said that locker room mood was something he hasn't seen all season.
"It was definitely top five feelings after a win in the last three years," junior linebacker Andrew Gachkar said.