LINCOLN, Neb. — Xzavie Jackson slowly jogged off the field at Memorial Stadium, tears welling up in his eyes.
Missouri had just lost to Nebraska, 34-20, continuing a losing streak in Lincoln that started in 1978 and has yet to see an end.
Just like he did after the loss to Texas A&M, Jackson disgustedly tossed his gloves on the 5-yard line. A few yards later his white sweatbands dropped in the corner of the end zone. No use in keeping the equipment when it brings a loss.
Jackson then stepped into a tunnel underneath the stadium, past the throngs of Cornhuskers fans decked in red with championship smiles plastered on their faces. With a multitude of emotions running through him — frustration, sadness and anger to name a few — Jackson tossed his helmet aside.
As his helmet bounced aimlessly up the cold, unsympathetic concrete, Jackson let loose a loud cry.
“We never beat these guys here,” Jackson said.
The senior then composed himself and walked into the locker room, where the mood was decscribed as “frustrated” and “crap” by other Missouri players.
The first one out of the locker room to face the media, as usual, was Jackson.
His eyes were still puffy, but his emotions were back under control.
“It’s not that important, it’s just a football game,” Jackson said. “You win or you lose every week, and you never know the outcome until it happens.”
The outcome was the same as it has been recently for this program. Not just in Lincoln, but when division supremacy is on the line. In the fourth chance in five years to establish a serious contention for the Big 12 North division, Missouri failed.
Entering the week, the mind-sets of Nebraska and Missouri were surprisingly different. Nebraska’s coaches and players had no trouble with the idea that Saturday’s game was essentially for the North championship. Missouri stuck to its one-game-at-a-time approach and no one outside of Chase Daniel publicly called it a potential title game.
Missouri players said there was little talk during the week about the meaning Saturday’s game would have on the Big 12 standings.
“We’ve been in this position before,” Jackson said Saturday. “It’s just another game.”
But when it came time for the two top teams in the division to play, the team that publicly placed no more importance on this game than any other fell behind by as much as 24 points in the first half and couldn’t recover. It was a familiar script for Missouri, which despite a good season so far has continually shown its inability to win these types of marquee games and further the growth of the program.
Last week it missed an opportunity to jump into the national spotlight at home against Oklahoma. This week against Nebraska was no different, and it left players with an all-too-familiar feeling.
“We have high expectations, and it hurts losing a game like this knowing that we are a good team and we’re better than this,” Tony Temple said.
Players said they believed this was the year the team would claim a dominant November lead in the North.
“We beat Nebraska last year so there was no doubt in our minds,” Marcus Bacon said.
Instead the loss left groups of Tigers fans muttering and Nebraska fans taunting the same thing as they exited the stadium.
“Same old Missouri.”
The notion that this Missouri team resembles that of the Tigers’ past put Chase Daniel on the defensive.
“Let them say that,” Daniel said. “This is a different team. How many people thought we would be 7-3 at this point? No one in this room I can guarantee you that.”
With the loss, Missouri (7-3, 3-3 Big 12) now only has an outside shot to win the division. The Tigers will need to win their last two games and will need Nebraska to lose next week at Texas A&M and at home against Colorado to finish its season.
But for now, Missouri is left to figure out what went wrong while mired in its own, self-created quagmire.
The team is able to point to the merits of exceeding the expectations of virtually all the preseason prognosticators but is unable to answer the growing voices that are beginning to wonder aloud about the quality of Missouri’s wins.
And with bottom-feeding Iowa State and Kansas as the only two teams left on the schedule, it’s a question Missouri will face until its bowl game, even if the team enters the game with nine victories on its resume.
“I’m not really worried about that,” Bacon said. “That’s for the critics. That’s not for us.”