COLUMBIA — For the second consecutive week, statistics, analysts and common sense all suggest that Missouri should win its football game Saturday.
After last week’s last-minute 27-24 victory against San Diego State, though, Missouri isn’t taking anything for granted. On Saturday, when the Tigers face Miami of Ohio, they will find a similar challenge to last week — another up-and-coming team from a respected non-BCS conference. Both Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and Miami of Ohio coach Mike Haywood say that Saturday’s game is anything but a guaranteed Missouri win.
“They’re doing a very good job at building that program,” Pinkel said about the Redhawks.
After a 50-6 rout of McNeese State, an FCS team coming off several disappointing seasons, resurgent San Diego State seemed to shock Missouri. Like the Aztecs, Miami of Ohio is working to restore its reputation and has recently undergone a coaching change, and Haywood said he thinks his team is much improved this season. Missouri will face a Redhawks team on the upswing.
"Now we're trying to change the culture back to the old days here at Miami,” Haywood said. “We're making some changes. We're definitely not where we should be, but we're definitely getting better each and every week."
Unlike Missouri, Miami of Ohio is coming off a solid victory. It defeated Colorado State 31-10 last Saturday to bring the team’s record to 2-1. The Redhawks lost their opening game against Florida.
Missouri, on the other hand, still feels the sting of a near-loss to San Diego State. Pinkel said he was not impressed with his team’s play and that the team needs to focus on basic, fundamental aspects of its game this week in order to play well against Miami of Ohio.
“It’s not a mystery, so we can fix those things,” Pinkel said.
Pinkel is also evaluating the Redhawks’ style of play when considering his team’s preparation.
“I think we’re just focusing on their schemes and trying to come up with a good game plan,” Pinkel said.
One aspect that will undoubtedly appear in Pinkel’s game plan is a means of dealing with Miami of Ohio’s defense. Both teams have prided themselves on turnovers this year, and the Redhawks forced four turnovers while its offense gave up none. Missouri, however, threw two interceptions and lost a fumble Saturday.
Miami of Ohio’s defense also allowed Colorado State only 1 yard total rushing, so Miami’s ability to stop the rush will only add to Missouri’s problems.
“We didn’t run the ball very well in the second half at all,” Pinkel said. “That’s been a bit of a discussion with us. We didn’t execute very well.”
Pinkel did not reveal whether the Tigers would rely more on Gabbert's arm than the running game, but Haywood is preparing for Missouri’s dominant passing game.
"We're going to have to create some opportunities on defense by putting pressure on the quarterback because they really like to throw the ball,” Haywood said.
Haywood said he is also aware of Missouri’s speed, not only at the tailback position, but also at wide receiver. Haywood said his goal on offense is simply to guard against turnovers. He knows that the Tigers have already intercepted the ball seven times this season and are just one interception short of their season mark for 2009.
"At the same time, we're going to have to win the special teams game and do a really good job on offense keeping the ball out of their hands,” Haywood said.
After last week’s game, Pinkel said Missouri has become accustomed to winning and that this belief in itself was one of the reasons his team was able to pull off the unlikely win.
Haywood spoke in similar terms on Monday, saying his players are beginning to believe in themselves and their teammates, and Missouri must be prepared for a confident Miami of Ohio football team on Saturday.