Last stand at the Zou
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Just a few weeks ago, Missouri was unbeaten, No. 6 in the BCS and atop the Big 12 North after what appeared to be a defining victory over Oklahoma.
The Tigers’ national profile has all but vanished heading into the home finale, the goal posts no longer in danger.
Instead, Senior Day at 11:30 a.m. today (Fox Sports Midwest-TV) against Kansas State (6-3, 3-3 Big 12) won’t be such a big deal for fans who deliriously stormed the field after the Sooners were toppled from atop the BCS. The offense fizzled last week at Texas Tech, and the week before that it was the defense that needed an earlier wakeup call at Nebraska.
It’s still been a pretty nice year, but now the Tigers appear to playing for bowl position rather than a slot in the conference championship game, given they’re a game behind Nebraska and the Cornhuskers hold the tiebreaker.
“It’s a big game,” quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. “We have to send these seniors out on a positive note. Everyone is being responsible for their own actions and we all have to get our job done.”
Gabbert is the easiest target for those looking to assess blame for the two-game skid at Missouri (7-2, 3-2 Big 12). Last week, the junior was held to a career-low 95 yards passing, misfiring enough to allow Texas Tech to overcome a 17-3 deficit to win 24-17.
Dropped passes, one in the end zone late in the game, haven’t helped. But Gabbert also has appeared skittish in the pocket and has only 12 touchdown passes all year, plus he’s facing a K-State defense that had five interceptions in a 39-14 victory over Texas.
“There are a lot variables out there and he’s not perfect,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “If we make some catches or have better protection or he makes some throws, the whole passing game goes.
“He had some struggles but he’s still a good player and he’s got my support 100 percent.”
Missouri’s defense allows only 16 points per game, among the best in the nation. But early defensive breakdowns cost Missouri the previous week, allowing Nebraska to grab an easy, early 24-0 lead.
“I think it’s hard to get over the two losses because you expect so much out of your team,” cornerback Kevin Rutland said. “We have to bounce back and focus and practice hard and not worry about the BCS or about championships or anything like that.”
Kansas State is bowl eligible for the first time since 2006 with three games to go in the regular season, and ranked 24th in the BCS. Dangerous, too. The week before whipping Texas, the Wildcats kept it tight in a 10-point home loss to Oklahoma State.
The Wildcats have one of the top rushing offenses in the nation, averaging 201 yards. Daniel Thomas’ 122-yard average is sixth-best in the nation and he has 1,102 yards — the school’s best-ever rushing total after nine games.
“It’s a great accomplishment because there have been a lot of great running backs that have come through this program,” Thomas said. “I think it’s a good stat.”
Collin Klein provided a second rushing threat last week, getting his first career start at quarterback and getting 127 yards and two scores. Coach Bill Snyder had not announced whether Klein would start again in place of Carson Coffman, who had been also hampered by injury.
“Well, I think part of it will be how well they perform during the course of the week and their preparations,” Snyder said. “I think that Carson is pretty much back to full strength and that was part of it last week. He was not at full strength.”
Missouri has won four straight against Kansas State, and spoiled the Wildcats’ Senior Day last year, winning 38-12 in Manhattan, Kan. Although the big dreams have faded, the Tigers were nearly two touchdown favorites to finish an unbeaten home schedule.
The senior class has 37 wins, one shy of the school record set last year, and Missouri is 5-0 at home.
“It’s always easier playing at home,” wide receiver T.J. Moe said. “You have 70,000 fans behind you and that’s always easier than 70,000 fans against you.”