COLUMBIA — Among the questions the Missouri football team has grown tired of hearing are "SEC or Big 12?" and "Why are you so bad in the third quarter?"
On Sunday, the first became moot. For now, however, the second question has not been answered.
Missouri has been outscored 43-0 in the third quarter in its four Big 12 Conference losses. For the season, it has averaged 3.33 points in the 15 minutes after halftime — 10 less than it has in the fourth quarter.
The 42-39 loss last Saturday at Baylor highlighted the Tigers' second-half inconsistencies once again. Missouri tallied a ridiculous 25 points in the fourth quarter, but not before getting outscored 14-0 in the third.
Once again, the team was left struggling to answer the question it evidently does not have an answer to.
"We have talked about it exhaustively, and we will continue to talk about it," offensive coordinator Dave Yost said.
Head coach Gary Pinkel said if he had an answer, he would have fixed the slow second half starts four weeks ago. Missouri (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) is simulating it in practice, but Pinkel is also worried that putting too much emphasis on it exacerbates the problem.
"There's a fine line how you handle it," he said.
The halftime process in the locker room has not changed. Wide receiver T.J. Moe said the players still come in, sit alone for five to 10 minutes while the coaches talk among themselves. Then the position coaches each speak with their crew before Pinkel concludes with words to the entire team.
Moe did have a theory for the sluggish third quarter. In some ways, returning to the field is harder than taking the field in the first place. Players have to "re-warm" themselves after sitting in the locker room and stiffening up.
"You're trotting back onto the field getting in the flow of things again," Moe said. "At least when you start the game, you've got the blood flowing … you're full of energy. The third quarter, I'm sure it's not easy for anyone."
But why is it especially hard for Missouri?
"I can't put my finger on it," running back De'Vion Moore said. "It's nothing specifically we're doing or not doing. We're putting together good drives throughout the game, but we got to be consistent in every quarter and not let up."
So far, Missouri has not found a way to do so — at least this year. Yost remembered having a similar, if not as extreme, problem two years ago. The coaching staff came up with a simple plan: Throw to former wide receiver Danario Alexander every play possible.
"Guess what?" Yost said. "We did it, and all of a sudden our third quarters got better."
Yost said the staff will be implementing a similar plan when No. 21 Texas (6-2, 3-2 Big 12) comes to Columbia this weekend for the first time since that season two years ago.
Will one receiver be targeted, or will a certain running back get more carries than usual? The coordinator would not say, but he indicated anyone watching the game would pick up on the plan.
Pinkel said the team might also try to micromanage the first series of plays even more than usual.
"Coming out of halftime … we maybe set it up where you want to go for four or five or six perfect plays in a row," Pinkel said. "Just something to place an emphasis on it."
The Tigers have realized pulling themselves out of holes they have dug rarely works. The final scores in losses to Oklahoma, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Baylor were nice and close because of fourth quarter comebacks.
And as most Missouri football player have been saying, close is not good enough.
"Some teams play better with their backs up against the wall," Moe said. "So far we have been that team. We have to start playing good when our backs aren't up against the wall."