Maybe Missouri went temporarily crazy, or maybe it realized that losing to red-hot Kansas State wasn’t that bad. Either way, as the Tigers prepared to leave KSU Stadium after losing 24-14 on Saturday, they had a different demeanor than after their other losses.
Players weren’t embarrassed as they were at Kansas, or in disbelief as they were at Colorado. There was no near-immediate acceptance, as there was after Oklahoma.
For once, the Tigers seemed to understand it was impressive that they had been in the situation to win the Big 12 Conference North Division.
“We’re closing the gap, and when we can beat a Kansas State, then we’ll know we are there,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said.
The Wildcats, who moved up to No. 15 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll on Sunday, stifled superstar sophomore quarterback Brad Smith. Smith ran for a season-low 26 yards on 16 carries, but said he was proud of his team.
“I don’t think we let each other down,” Smith said. “But it was disappointing not to win the game.”
Kicker Mike Matheny said his teammates were dejected as they walked off the field, but they recognized their effort.
“We’re never quitting, we always want to give it, but they’re a good team, they were making big plays,” Matheny said. “It was tough for us, but we kept fighting. We needed a momentum swing and never really got our big shot.”
The Tigers’ first score, in the second quarter, came on Smith’s 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end DeQuincy Howard. Matheny’s attempt to further shift momentum MU’s way fell about two inches short.
With two seconds left in the first half, the Tigers down 21-7 and the wind at his back, Matheny launched a 62-yard field goal attempt. The ball bounced off the crossbar and back toward the field.
Matheny, whose career long is 44 yards, set up his attempt an extra yard back to decrease the chance that the Wildcats would block the kick.
“With a long field goal, you’re not going to get as much trajectory on it,” Matheny said. “I thought it was going to be short, and it hit the post, which is even worse than being short.”
The Wildcats stopped the Tigers’ next scoring opportunity. On the Tigers’ first second-half possession, Kansas State cornerback Louis Lavender had an interception in the end zone, a pass Smith intended for receiver Darius Outlaw.
“If we would have got that field goal and scored that touchdown down in the red zone, it would have been a tight game,” Howard said. “They’re no better than us.”
The Tigers will be heavily favored in their final regular-season matchup against Iowa State this weekend. After that, the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 31 is a likely finale for MU.
Representatives from the Independence Bowl selection committee have attended the Tigers’ past two games and plan to go to the game this weekend. They have not kept it quiet that MU is a leading candidate to play in their bowl.
A win against the Cyclones would help cement the decision, though.
“This is going to be some motivation,” Smith said. “We know what type of team we are, and how we can play, and where we want to get to. It’s going to be a big week for us this week.”