On Nov. 20, Tony Temple stood in the corner of the large meeting room on the first floor of the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex, away from the lobby where the majority of media members were grilling the Tigers about losing four of their past five games.
Temple leaned against a rail in the well-lit, expansive area. A local television station was lobbing questions to various players about how the team could possibly bounce back against Kansas.
The junior running back himself wasn’t drawing attention with words or actions. The only way Temple stood out was his hair. Two and a half hours of work, and half of his hair was in braids, parts were in cornrows, and other parts were just nappy. He swore he would get it completely finished soon, but the words just came out tired.
Two days before, Temple lost a fumble in the first quarter at Iowa State and wasn’t heard from again until the fourth. It was his fourth lost fumble of the season.
“You think about that all year, as soon as the first one happens,” Temple said about his fumbles. “You try not to worry about it and just try and block it out. It’s really hard. I think about it every time I touch the ball.”
The Iowa State game was just a small microcosm of his season. He produced when he played, but then a fumble or another mistake would leave him on the sidelines for extended periods of time.
“You don’t mean to do it,” Temple said. “You hear critics and you hear people talking and it’s hard to let that go.”
So a challenge was set forth last week for Temple. Missouri’s offensive coordinator, Dave Christensen, told Temple he was going to get a significant amount of carries.
Saturday came, and Temple delivered.
He carried the ball 21 times for 72 yards and scored a touchdown on a 20-yard run, his longest of the season, in the Tigers’ 42-17 win over the Jayhawks.
“The coaches gave me an opportunity and trusted me and put the ball in my hands,” Temple said. “I took that as a challenge, and I wanted to refocus every single play.”
FREEZE FRAME: It wasn’t the most significant play of the game, but a fourth-down play in the third quarter prevented Kansas from gaining any additional momentum.
With the Tigers’ lead trimmed to 20-17, the Missouri offense was ineffective in the ensuing drive and looked like it would have to punt. On fourth-and-3, the Missouri special teams huddled near the line of scrimmage, and then quickly broke the huddle. There was a quick snap count and Kansas went offsides. The penalty yardage gave the Tigers a first down. They would cap the drive with a touchdown.
“We weren’t going to punt it at all, it was a fake,” said defensive end Xzavie Jackson, who was on the offensive line for the play. “The ball wasn’t going to move at all.”
SLOWING IT DOWN: It’s hard to say the 126 rushing yards Missouri gave up to Kansas running back Jon Cornish could be considered a success. But considering the defense’s recent trend of giving up game-breaking yards on the ground, defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams took a positive outlook.
“He’s been running on everybody the last couple of weeks,” Williams said. “We knew what they wanted to do, and we tried to limit him. He was tough and we had to slow him down.”