If the Missouri football team were a lawn mower, its best selling point might be its zero-degree turning radius.
In a matter of hours, the Tigers went from a team on the rise to a downward spiral, suffering their first loss, 35-14 to rival Kansas no less, and plummeting out of the polls and into mediocrity. It got worse before it got better.
“The worst part was the ride home,” senior defensive tackle Russ Bell said. “On the way home, it was a traffic jam all the way back to Missouri, and you had KU fans driving up beside the bus. It just took forever. It was hell.”
After a bye week and a week of their most intense practices, the Tigers will try to get back on track against Nebraska on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
“We were down; we were disappointed in ourselves after the game,” senior cornerback Michael Harden said. “But this week, we’ve had better practices. Everyone is more enthused about going out and playing. I feel very good about this week and this team.”
Senior center A.J. Ricker said the one good thing about the Kansas game is that Missouri can only play better.
“We didn’t play very well,” Ricker said. “It was pretty sad. We can’t play any worse. We got that out of the way, hopefully.”
Harden recognizes that a lot of Missouri’s hard work went down the tubes with the loss at Kansas. Almost immediately after, the debate over whether the Tigers would win eight or nine games became a debate about six wins and bowl eligibility.
“We’re used to that,” Harden said. “As long as we have confidence in ourselves and everyone on the staff and in the program knows we can do it, we kind of just ignore the outside noise.”
Because of the bye week, the Tigers had an extra week of trying to drown out the noise resulting from an embarrassing loss. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said the bye makes it harder to let go of a loss, but he also said the bye week has its advantages.
“We’ve already had four practices, not only to prepare for Nebraska, but also to try to improve, as you usually do in bye weeks,” Pinkel said. “We’ve been working hard, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm.”
Harden said the bye week was good because it allowed the Tigers extra time to prepare and scout Nebraska, but, for other reasons, he hated having the week off.
“I was so embarrassed with last week that I was ready to get out there the next day and play,” Harden said.
Pinkel said there won’t be major changes in personnel or planning, but the players have noticed one change. Several players cited an increased intensity and enthusiasm in last week’s practices.
Pinkel said he has noticed, too, but he can’t explain it.
“I see that a little bit,” Pinkel said. “I don’t understand why all of a sudden, but the intensity level and enthusiasm has been upped quite a bit by the players. I don’t know what that means.”
Senior wide receiver Darius Outlaw has an explanation.
“We’re in it to win it now,” he said.
The Tigers seem to have come to a consensus about how to best forget the Kansas game: beat Nebraska.
“I wanna beat ’em bad,” Harden said. “It’s almost worse than beating KU. Since we couldn’t accomplish that, this would make us feel just a little bit better.”