COLUMBIA — After the clock hit zero, offensive lineman Chris Freeman and other assorted Missouri football players led what was left of a gleeful student section through the fight song.
T.J. Moe stopped and posed for a quick picture with a fan in the front row.
The players high-fived fans on their way back to the locker room.
There were smiles all around Faurot Field.
It was a stark contrast to the postgame scenes of the past two weeks, where sullen-faced Tigers players glumly muddled through cliché-ridden interviews about how “Missouri beat Missouri” and “it just comes down to focus.”
On Saturday, the weather was perfect, the centennial Homecoming festivities were in full swing and the Missouri football team rolled to an easy 52-17 win over Iowa State in front of a sold-out crowd of 71,004.
For one day — the first day in some time — all was well in Missouri football nation. Whether it will stay that way for long is anybody’s guess.
The positives were easy to spot. The problems that plagued Missouri’s play — penalties, third downs and offensive consistency — weren’t problems at all against the Cyclones.
The Tigers had zero penalties. They converted nine of 14 third downs. They found an identity on offense through a Henry Josey-led rushing attack that left Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads feeling as if his defense was reduced to “mincemeat,” as he put it.
“He’s got some quicks,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said of Josey. “You just have to give him a little seam, and with his acceleration he’s really a very impressive guy.”
There was nothing little about the seams Josey and the rest of the Tigers' running backs had to work with. Time after time, they had wide gaps and easy-to-spot cutback lanes to pick up yardage in large chunks.
“My O-line was having a good time today,” said Josey, who ran for 129 yards on 19 carries. “They were opening up holes, they were trying twisters and some things on us, but the O-line was catching up to them and cutting them off."
The Tigers’ plan to exploit the Cyclones’ porous rushing defense was as visible on the stat sheet as it was on the field. Missouri ran the ball 58 times for 294 yards, the most rushing attempts for the Tigers since Nov. 16, 2002, when they ran it 63 times against Texas A&M. That was 109 games ago.
A good plan was necessary. Overall, the Missouri players spoke about the fact that this was a very important game for their team. Josey called it a “big relief.”
It’s a big relief for fans as well. A loss Saturday would have made the Tigers a long shot for a bowl.
“We had a huge sense of urgency this week,” linebacker Luke Lambert said. “We wanted to focus on little things and make sure we didn’t make mistakes anywhere. If somebody stepped the wrong way or did something wrong, we had to go back and do it again.”
The rush-heavy attack was an easy call for Missouri’s coaches. Iowa State entered the game allowing an average of more than 200 yards per game on the ground, and the Cyclones allowed 395 rushing yards to Baylor a week ago.
In fact, the Cyclones haven’t been doing much of anything well lately. Since getting off to a 3-0 start, Iowa State has lost three straight games by an average of 27 points.
In that sense, Missouri fans shouldn’t get overly excited about what transpired Saturday. No. 6 Oklahoma State and its high-octane offense will present a very different challenge when it rolls into Columbia next week. Road games at Texas A&M and Baylor before a visit from Texas don’t make the path to a seventh-straight bowl game any easier to navigate.
The players claim that it’s all about gaining confidence from what transpired against Iowa State. They say they aren’t looking at the schedule, that they must build on their performance against the Cyclones and believe in the fact that they can put their efforts in practice toward what would be a shocking upset next week.
That remains to be seen. Pinkel and Co. will begin getting to work on Oklahoma State during Sunday night’s meetings.
But for tonight, they can enjoy at least a day of good vibrations on the centennial Homecoming.
For one night, all is well.