SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - There are two words that will cause Missouri football player T.J. Moe’s brow to instantly furrow. He will shake his head, and his shoulders will sag just a bit beneath his black hoodie.
Missouri (10-2, 6-2 Big 12)
vs. Iowa (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten)
WHEN: 9 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM
There’s another word that has the opposite effect. He will sit up a little straighter and begin thinking, talking, remembering. It’s a word that might have made him a little anxious in early October, but what a difference a few months make.
One hundred and 20 minutes. Eight quarters. The sophomore wide receiver was there for all of it, for Missouri’s 35-13 loss to Navy and its 36-27 victory over Oklahoma (televised by ABC and following a visit by ESPN's Gameday), and each game has affected the way he looks at Tuesday’s Insight Bowl.
He has seen an unexpected loss, felt the disappointment from the sidelines. He knows how that feels, and he never wants to feel that way again. But he has also been there for a big win, perhaps the biggest win in Missouri coach Gary Pinkel’s tenure.
There’s pressure to end the season on a positive note, but there’s also an added comfort. He and his team have played, and won, a game in the national spotlight.
“We’ve had big games this year,” Moe said. “I don’t think you could have any bigger game than the one against Oklahoma, with the whole world watching.”
Moe said those two experiences loom large in his mind and in the minds of many of his fellow receivers. They’re a young group, there are no seniors, and Moe and tight end Michael Egnew are first-year starters. So they have less experience to draw upon. Those two games stand out as examples of two extremes, and Moe knows they’re important. If he has learned anything from them, it’s the value of preparation and energy.
“We just came out so flat last year,” Moe said. “It doesn’t matter how good of a time you have down at the bowl game. The only thing I remember from Houston is the score. We just got killed.”
Egnew said the Oklahoma game showed him that preparing for a big game is no different than getting ready for any other matchup. Putting added stress on a game, for Egnew, is a mistake.
“Basically, I just try to prepare the same way I prepared all year for each game,” Egnew said.
Moe agreed. Iowa is just another team, this is just another game. Instead of looking at the past month as preparation for the Insight Bowl, Moe said he looks at it as preparation for Iowa. Focusing on the team rather than the atmosphere, Moe said, is crucial for success.
“We’ve just got to execute,” Moe said. “I know that sounds stupid, but we’ve just got to march down the field, little by little, and score some points. They’ve got a good defense.”
Pinkel agreed. Just as he and his players have done before every other game this season, they’ve picked apart Iowa’s team. They’ve scrutinized films, they’ve adjusted to the Hawkeyes’ roster changes, and they’ve tried to become experts on their opponents.
For Pinkel, Tuesday night is merely the end of a season, and he wants to end 2010 the way he knows his team can.
“We want to finish the season in the right way,” Pinkel said.