MANHATTAN, Kan. — They said they had to limit the costly penalties. They said they had to convert more third downs. They said they had to improve the pass rush.
The Missouri football players and coaches spoke of many things they were working to fix during the bye week. In a 24-17 loss to Kansas State, they accomplished none of them.
With the loss, Missouri fell to 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big 12. The Tigers had not been under .500 since Nov. 6, 2004.
But abstract figures don't capture the cause of disappointment. Rather, it's the lack of improvement in the areas that have troubled the team all season.
Missouri came away from its first two defeats at Arizona State and Oklahoma looking like a good team whose bad habits had been exploited. Some referred to the Tigers as the best 2-2 team in the country. After the loss to Kansas State, the team is left to wonder how those bad habits became exacerbated in the two weeks it had to fix them.
"We can prepare well all week, and I think we had an excellent week," senior defensive end Jacquies Smith said. "But you have to go out there and put it on the field. It's that simple."
Apparently not simple enough. The team struggled most with mental errors. On Kansas State’s two first-quarter scoring drives, Missouri committed offside penalties inside the 10-yard line. The second time, the Wildcats had to settle for a field goal, but the fact that Missouri gave them so many second chances was staggering after head coach Gary Pinkel stressed limiting such damaging errors.
The offense was no better. James Franklin threw an interception at Missouri’s own 21-yard line on the first play of the game, and Missouri gained zero yards in the first quarter. Granted, the offense only ran seven plays, but the reason why Big 12 leading rusher Henry Josey did not have a single carry was unclear.
When Missouri finally put a drive of its own together, moving down the field and to the Kansas State 8-yard line, a false start penalty led to a 3rd-and-long situation. The Tigers had to settle for a field goal.
Even after Grant Ressel missed his second field goal of the day in the third quarter and Missouri continued to trail 10-3, the team stopped Kansas State and looked like it was going to have another chance at tying the game.
But on the ensuing punt, Darvin Ruise knocked over, and was charged with roughing, punter Ryan Doerr. Revitalized, Kansas State drove 58 yards for its second touchdown and a demoralizing 14-point lead.
"Coach Pinkel talks about that all the time — Mizzou beating Mizzou," Smith said. "That's what we did. We'd make a few plays and get them in the situation that we wanted, but Mizzou is beating Mizzou. We can't do that, we can't win games like that."
Missouri fell behind 24-3 before scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. If the Tigers stopped Kansas State one more time with five minutes left, they had a chance to tie the game.
Instead, the Wildcats drove down the field and were able to run out the clock after, of all things, a Missouri personal foul. The signs of life it had shown toward the end of the game were once again a mirage.
"There are things we have to fix just like the last game — the little things, always," sophomore running back Henry Josey said.
A lot of little things, as Pinkel said after the game. Asked what were the most disappointing aspects about the game, Pinkel responded, "We don't have enough time for it. A lot of little things that real well-coached and well-focused teams (do)."