EL PASO, Texas — When the Missouri football team runs its first play today in the Sun Bowl against Oregon State, it will mark the first live game action against another team in 34 days.
That was before finals week, record snowfalls and Martin Rucker’s tiger-striped Mohawk.
But after more than a month of continually practicing against each other, the Tigers will finally have a shot at playing someone else at 1 p.m. today, something the team was excited about.
“It sort of reminds me of spring ball,” said quarterback Chase Daniel. “You just want to get ready and play someone else.”
The extended time away from a game can be viewed through two different lenses for the Tigers.
Missouri played arguably its most complete game of the season in its most recent game with a 42-17 victory against Kansas back on Nov. 25. The offense was crisp and efficient, and the defense stopped the Jayhawks from having much success in the passing game.
But the team also lost four of its past six games after a 6-0 start. The rushing defense appeared to turn in a worse performance each week. Problems on the offensive side of the ball continued to mount up until the Kansas game.
So with all of the time off, how the team responds will be critical in the early portions of the game.
“That’s part of playing football,” David Overstreet said. “You play for these bowl situations, to be able to have all of these practices and get ready to go play. You just have to be ready and get out and go.”
Overstreet will be at his third bowl game in four years, something Missouri coach Gary Pinkel hoped his players could draw on to deal with the long time between games.
“I’d like to think that with our players going to three bowls in four years, can deal with the bowl experience a little bit better,” Pinkel said.
On the Oregon State side, the Beavers played a week after Missouri’s season ended. Oregon State went to Hawaii and won its third straight game to enter the bowl on a streak coach Mike Riley thinks his team can continue. Even though the Beavers’ regular season ended a week after Missouri, his team will be dealing with a significant time away from live game action against another team.
“You’d like to think there’s some carryover but
the other team has a lot to do with that as well,” Riley said. “There’s a balancing act. You have to find that right edge in the game plan where you are ready to come out of the gates, not stale.”
NO ENCORE: Missouri had a surprising game in the Independence Bowl last season, overcoming a 21-0 deficit to beat South Carolina 38-31. Though the comeback was the largest for a Missouri team, it is not something coach Gary Pinkel wants to repeat.
“I’d like to start a little bit faster than we did a year ago,” Pinkel said.
The Tigers should have little trouble starting quickly, if this season’s trends continue. Missouri has received the ball first in all 12 of the team’s regular season games. The Tigers scored on eight of those 12 possessions (four touchdowns and four field goals). The team punted once and fumbled three times on the non-scoring drives, including Will Franklin’s fumble at the 1-yard line against Texas A&M that would have been a touchdown had he held onto the ball.
Martin Rucker said not getting behind early will be on Missouri player’s minds come kickoff today.
“Nobody wanted to be down 21 points and it wasn’t fun for any of us,” Rucker said. “It made it that much tougher on us, and so that’s just one thing that will be on the back of our minds, and we will know that we don’t want to dig ourselves out of a hole.”