COLUMBIA — Gary Pinkel laughs in the face of futility.
Aside from games at neutral stadiums, the Missouri football program has not won on the road against a top-10 team in 32 years, and it’s not for lack of opportunity. The Tigers are 0-29 since they toppled No. 9 Mississippi State in 1981 in Starkville, Miss.
Game time: 11 a.m.
Where: Athens, Ga. (University of Georgia)
Pinkel’s teams are 0-7 in such games, but he smirked when asked about the past three decades of road failures.
“You were Googling all day with that stuff,” said coach Pinkel, who had to wait for several attendees at Monday’s news conference to stifle laughter before finishing his answer. “We don’t look at that. This is a new year, and we’re focused on winning this football game,” the coach added.
Those might as well have been the words of every Tiger's coach before a big road game since 1982, but this year’s crop of Missouri players think they can break the streak against the No. 7 Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday.
“I feel like if we go out there and go 100 percent, anything is possible,” defensive end Markus Golden said. “So we’ve just got to prepare all week, work hard in practice, and when the game day comes, show it out there on the field.”
Fellow defensive lineman Lucas Vincent strongly believes that this year could be special, but he remains cautiously optimistic.
“It’s really hard to say what makes this team different,” Vincent said. “We just can’t figure out what it is. It’s just something that you can’t really put your finger on.”
History isn’t on Missouri’s side, and many experts are not placing their faith in the black and gold. Georgia will be missing at least a handful of top players due to injury, the Bulldogs remain favorites by more than a touchdown. They also have the SEC’s leader in career passing yards in Aaron Murray.
The senior quarterback admitted he is wary of the “athletic” Missouri defense.
“They do a good job of making plays on the ball in the air,” Murray said in a Tuesday phone conference. “If you’re inaccurate at all, they’ll make a play on the ball in the air. I need to be very precise with my decision making.”
And then there’s the challenge of keeping up with James Franklin and the Tigers’ offense, which scored eight times last weekend at Vanderbilt.
“They’re very talented on the offensive side of the ball and capable of putting up a lot of points,” Murray added. “We’re going to have to match that.”
Make no mistake, though. The Tigers are the team with something to prove in this matchup. They had the Bulldogs on the ropes with a 17-9 third quarter lead at Faurot Field last September. But Georgia reeled off 32 second-half points en route to 41-20 victory in Missouri’s inaugural SEC game.
That contest served as a wake-up call that the Tigers had a ways to go before they could compete with elite SEC programs. After Georgia, they lost six of their remaining 10 games to finish without a bid for a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
But this year, Missouri is 5-0 and coming off a 51-28 drubbing of Vanderbilt in Nashville. A win on Saturday would already exceed last year’s win total with six, potentially seven games remaining.
“You’ve got to focus on yourself,” Pinkel said. “People will get to draw their analysis of what the game’s about and make all their judgments. That has nothing to do with us playing football. That doesn’t help a guy block better, catch better, throw better, tackle better.”
Offensive lineman Evan Boehm understands that, but he said games against teams such as Georgia and Alabama make it impossible not to think about the magnitude of the encounter.
“When you first glance over to the other sideline, it’s really cool,” Boehm said.
As for Saturday, Boehm and the rest of the team want to set a new tone.
“It’s the same thing as them looking over at us and seeing the black and gold,” Boehm said. “They see the Tiger head on our helmet and say, ‘Okay, these guys are for real.’”