Losing three straight games and not scoring a touchdown in six consecutive quarters is a blow to any team’s confidence.
The Missouri football team is no different.
Although most players and coaches said Monday they thought the offense could regain the swagger it had when it scored 48 points against Ball State and 52 against Arkansas State, they admitted confidence may be an issue.
“I think that’s natural,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “But we have to get it back. That’s my job and the coaches’ job and the leaders’ job to get that back.”
A miserable showing by the Tiger offense in the 24-3 loss to Nebraska on Saturday left many players and Pinkel himself struggling to find answers to why this offense has stalled.
The Tigers were one of the Big 12 Conference’s most potent running teams last season, averaging 237.5 rushing yards per game, but have leveled off this season. Opponents have found ways to stop quarterback Brad Smith, who is averaging 54.4 rushing yards per game and had 25 yards on 21 carries against the Cornhuskers.
Compared with a 2003 season when Smith averaged 108.2 yards per game and 260.2 yards of total offense, he has struggled to dominate games like he did last year.
Teammates said Smith’s subdued demeanor makes it difficult to determine if the difficulties have affected him mentally.
“He always comes with a positive attitude,” wide receiver Sean Coffey said. “He always has a smile on his face.”
A 51-yard rushing performance and mediocre rankings in all conference offensive categories are not entirely Smith’s fault. Although other teams have found ways to defend running quarterbacks, a large part of the problem has been Missouri’s inability to execute its offense.
Offensive lineman Scott Paffrath said other teams have simply found ways to dominate the Tiger offense.
“The offense has been so good the last couple years,” Paffrath said. “That’s why it’s so disheartening right now to get your (behind) kicked.”
In a role reversal from last season, the Tiger defense has not lacked in confidence and has been increasingly impressive.
Although the Missouri defense has struggled to stop the run in its last three games, the Tigers still rank first in the conference and ninth in the nation in total defense. A shut-down pass defense has overcome the 171.8 rushing yards per game the Tigers have allowed, for a total of 277 yards allowed per game.
Missouri’s defense ranks ahead of No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 8 Texas.
“I think the defense has quite a bit of confidence,” Pinkel said.
The Tigers hope a strong showing against Kansas State can rebuild some of the confidence for the offense that has eroded over the past three weeks.
Wide receiver Thomson Omboga sees a simple solution to the offense’s woes.
“It’s not like we’re not moving the ball,” he said. “We just have to get it in the end zone.”
IOWA STATE GAME TIME SET: MU said Tuesday that the Tigers’ Nov. 27 football game against Iowa State in Ames, Iowa will be regionally broadcast on ABC Sports, and will kick off at noon.
It will be the eighth game in 2004 to be chosen for television. MU officials should find out by Nov. 8 whether or not the team’s Nov. 20 game against Kansas will also be chosen for television.