At the start of the second half Saturday, on the first offensive play, Colorado quarterback Bernard Jackson hit receiver Dusty Sprague for a 63-yard pass. Jackson punched it into the end zone on the next play, immediately draining the energy out of Memorial Stadium.
The Buffaloes cut into the Missouri lead, making it 21-13 in the teams’ first Big 12 Conference game of the season. The scene was all too familiar for many Tigers fans.
“When they hit that guy, I just thought, ‘S---, here we go again,’” Bill Wileg, a Missouri fan here from Nebraska said.
But this Missouri team, ranked No. 25 in the AP poll, did something teams in the past few years have been unable to do. They collected themselves, called each other out and then shut out Colorado for the rest of the game.
Missouri (5-0, 1-0 Big 12) beat Colorado (0-5, 0-1) 28-13. Despite the Buffaloes’ winless record, they were a team that provided the Tigers with a sense of where they really were. It was a game that in past years likely would have been a stumbling block.
“We paid more attention,” receiver Brad Ekwerekwu said. “We focused all our energy this year. (Colorado) was hungry, but we were just as hungry. We were picked to finish fifth in the North this preseason, so we have people to prove wrong, too.”
Ekwerekwu’s teammates said those past losses prepared the team so it wouldn’t fall into the same trap. The players, especially the seniors, had a big role in getting Missouri ready.
“I think it has a lot to do with maturity,” safety David Overstreet said. “Everybody on this team has had experience with adversity. We weren’t going to stand by; that’s not us.”
That attitude and mindset, being able to forget plays that didn’t go well, keeps those collapses from happening again.
“You let the bad play go and move on,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “You’re going to have to do that. You mature as a team and mature as a program.”
Missouri, off to its best start since the 1981 season and its best start ever under Pinkel, could move up again in the rankings with Saturday’s win. Most players say they don’t pay attention to those kinds of things, but will admit they do check out where Mizzou is in the polls when they come out.
Senior middle linebacker Dedrick Harrington has been through the pain of blowing comfortable leads and losing winnable games. He says he knows what can happen when a team buys into itself and starts believing the hype.
“…We need to keep our head out of the clouds and our feet on the ground right now and just worry about what Mizzou’s doing,” Harrington said. “We don’t need all the outside attention and things like that. We need to stay more team-oriented and stay together. That will be the important thing for us.”
The game was Missouri’s first legitimate challenge at home, but Saturday will be the first real test on the road when the Tigers face Texas Tech.
Players like offensive lineman Joel Clinger talk about taking it one game at a time, but the cliché holds true. He didn’t know Missouri was 5-0. The upcoming game will be the next in line, and Sunday night players will again begin preparing and focusing so they don’t grow content with what they already have accomplished.
“It’s not enough,” tight end Martin Rucker said. “5-0 sounds good. 6-0 sounds better.”