When the Missouri football team hit the practice field on Aug. 9 for its first preseason practice, unseasonably cool weather welcomed the Tigers.
Those lower than average temperatures stayed throughout the fall workouts and might have cost the Tigers (1-1) on Thursday night in Troy, Ala., where the Trojans upset Missouri 24-14. The Tigers, ranked No. 19 entering the game, fell out of the AP rankings after the loss.
Although during practices he seemed concerned about the possibility, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said his team was prepared for the warm Alabama night.
“The heat was not a factor at all,” Pinkel said. “It was just as hot last week in Missouri, so that’s not an excuse. They just got after us.”
Despite Pinkel’s objection, Troy coach Larry Blakeney said the Trojans (2-0) were better equipped to handle the humid weather.
“I think the heat may have helped us a little bit, we train it, we’re acclimated to it,” Blakeney said. “It wasn’t quite hot enough, but I think the endurance factor may have helped us.”
Junior linebacker Bernard Davis said the Trojans could sense the Tigers were getting tired before the first half ended.
“By the end of the second quarter, you could feel that they were not used to the humidity and the heat and they were tiring out,” Davis said. “They were not running as fast as they were earlier, we had the better stamina.”
Troy gained only five yards in the first quarter, and did not gain a first down until 9:22 remained in the half. Blakeney said the slow start was in part because Troy was in awe of the Missouri talent level.
“We were probably a little bit, I won’t say intimidated, but a little bit awed early with the Brad Smith and all that stuff they do back there,” Blakeney said. “Throwing the ball downfield to them big, ol’ pretty receivers and a big ol’ pretty tight end and a 6-9 tackle and all those pretty guys. Sooner or later we figured out we could play just as good as those big pretty guys could play.”
Once Troy figured out it could play with the Tigers, the momentum shifted and the Trojans started making plays to contain the Missouri offense. The Tigers gained 134 yards in the opening quarter, and only 202 yards in the final three.
One way the Trojans stifled the Tiger offense was by forcing Missouri into mistakes. The Tigers turned the ball over three times, had six penalties and allowed a punt to be blocked. The Tigers also nearly lost possession on their own goal line when Damien Nash appeared to fumble the ball, but the officials ruled he was down on the play.
“We started making some plays and making some things happen,” Blakeney said. “I don’t know how many turnovers we wound up with, but it seemed every time we needed one, we got one.”
While the Trojan defense was shutting down Missouri’s powerful offense, Troy was starting to move the ball on offense. Running back DeWhitt Betterson said the Trojans noticed holes in the Tigers rush defense.
“Studying their film, (running backs) coach (James) Joseph was telling us how the defensive ends get up the field,” Betterson said, “and any time the defensive ends were getting up the field, we had a power trap that works.”
Blakeney came into the game believing the Trojans could knock off the Tigers if the game went right, even if Missouri were a better team.
“I wasn’t positive that we would be good enough,” Blakeney said. “But as a man told me not too long ago and he said, ‘You don’t have to beat them 365 days out of a year, you just have to beat them in one 60 minute segment of history.’ And that 60 minutes, the Troy Trojans were better than Missouri.”