BOULDER, Colo. – Take everything you know about the Missouri Tiger football program, run to the highest floor of Memorial Union, and throw it out the window.
This isn’t the Tigers of the past.
After weeks and weeks of cautious optimism, MU fans can finally let out a breath they’ve been waiting 38 years — the last time the Tigers started 8-1 — to exhale.
This team is for real. This team is special. This team could have what it takes to win a championship.
With injured safety Pig Brown watching from the sideline on crutches, the Tigers overcame a putrid first quarter against Colorado and dominated the Buffaloes for the remainder of the game in a 55-10 rout.
“I thought that we prepared very well,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said, “and I thought we really had great focus and a lot of high energy throughout the whole game.”
The foreboding signs were everywhere for the Tigers this week.
There was the injury. Brown, the heart of the MU defense, ruptured his Achilles’ tendon against Iowa State, ending his season. After the game, several Tiger players consoled Brown in the locker room. Together, they cried.
But there was no hangover from the devastating news. Backups Justin Garrett, Del Howard and Kevin Rutland played with tenacity in their leader’s absence. The defense held the Buffaloes’ offense to a season-low 196 total yards.
“Those guys were great,” Brown said. “I knew they were going to be great from the time that I got hurt.”
There was the history. The Tigers started 7-1 in 2006 but stumbled to a 1-4 finish after defensive end Brian Smith broke his hip against Kansas State in the team’s seventh win.
The Tigers had also dropped 10 of their last 11 games at Folsom Field, their last win coming here in 1997.
After the first quarter, it looked like it would be 11 of 12. MU quarterback Chase Daniel threw an interception on the second play of the game, and the Buffaloes converted the turnover into a quick touchdown. Later in the quarter, CU blocked a punt and put three more points on the board.
The Tigers were down 10-7 at the end of the first, and the groans from the dedicated MU fans who made the 11-hour trip could be heard echoing in the Rockies. Another November collapse, they thought.
But as the Tigers have done all season, they proved this team is different from the teams of recent past.
The defense recovered a fumble from CU quarterback Cody Hawkins early in the next quarter, and Daniel lofted a perfect pass to a receiver Jeremy Maclin, who raced 46 yards to the end zone.
The play woke the Tigers. Revitalized them.
They couldn’t be stopped. Daniel picked apart CU’s defense — the same defense that picked off Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell four times last week — as he threw for his second five-touchdown game of the season.
The MU defense was equally impressive, forcing the Buffaloes into three-and-outs all night. CU coach Dan Hawkins mercifully replaced his battered son late in the game. But by that point, few fans were there to see it. Most had exited midway through the third quarter.
The key to the defense’s success, Pinkel said, was the offense’s success.
“To do this to a team like Colorado who likes to run the football and play action, you are forcing them to play out of their scheme,” he said. “When you are 20 points down, all of the sudden your game plan has to adjust, and when that happens, it works in our favor.”
Now the Tigers appear to be on course for a head-on collision with Kansas, who mauled Nebraska 76-39 earlier Saturday to improve to 9-0. Three weeks from now the Tigers will play the Jayhawks in Kansas City in a game that will likely decide the North division champion.
Fans have been critical of MU’s success, and rightly so. But after tonight, it’s time to shove those doubts aside. It’s time to enjoy something truly special.
Even though he’s been forced to the sidelines, Brown is.
“By far this is the best game that we’ve played,” he said. “Any guy wants to get out there with their team, but it feels just as good cheering them on to victory.”