The Missouri players all said the right things. They all insisted there was no frustration, no in-fighting, no fracturing of this team.
"We just got to execute our plays," Kony Ealy said. "Can't get frustrated with anybody else. Just got to do our job."
For much of the night, Missouri's defense did its job. The Tigers gave up just 295 yards to Vanderbilt, held Zac Stacy to 2.5 yards per carry and kept a punchless Missouri offense in the game. But even the defense broke late, allowing two second-half scoring drives and missing two tackles on Stacy's game-icing first down run with less than a minute to play.
There were plenty of plays that could have changed the game. A drop here, a bad snap there.
"You can't blame the one snap," Andrew Baggett said. "We had more scoring opportunities, we could have capitalized more. You can't blame it on that one thing."
"Frustration? I don't think there's any frustration," Kip Edwards said. "We have a game next week. I don't see any frustration. We have to come out, practice well on Tuesday and get a win next Saturday." Ignoring the obvious of how tough that will be with top-ranked Alabama coming to town, the shouting in Missouri's locker room that was audible in the adjoining media area (and on Gary Pinkel's radio interview from what I am told) belied the words. Frustration? Oh yes. There's plenty.
This season that started with so much celebration, with so much excitement over joining the best conference in the country, is crumbling. Missouri is 3-and-3. Georgia was closer than it looked. South Carolina might be the second or third best team in the country. But Vanderbilt?
The Tigers will be favored in two games the rest of the year. That means a minimum of one upset will be required to continue a bowl streak that currently sits at seven years.
And even that is but the bare minimum of success. Nearly half the Division One teams in the country make bowls every year. It is a reward for playing a season not well, but adequately. A 2-and-6 conference record will get many BCS teams into the post-season. And even that is a stretch for the Tigers right now.
There are reasons. Missouri has now played nearly two full games with a backup redshirt freshman quarterback. At no point has the offensive line been anything close to full strength. The league is tougher. The schedule is tougher.
To quote Pinkel, Nobody Cares.
Sure there are reasons. But injuries happen everywhere. Upsets happen all the time. The bottom line is, good teams overcome them.
At this point, few would try to make the argument Missouri is a good team. The Tigers have scored a touchdown in every game since October 29th of 2005. But twice in the last three weeks, Mizzou has needed to score six in the fourth quarter to keep that streak alive. Both have ended in losses. Even the Tigers' wins have come by the slimmest of margins, preserved by last-second defensive plays and questionable decisions by their opponents.
Pinkel said multiple times on Saturday night that he has been here before. There is no magic wand to wave. Pinkel knows but one way to fix things. He will keep working.
There is really no other answer. To paraphrase Rick Pitino, Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Pig Brown ain't walking through that door. Missouri will play with the cards it has been dealt.
To some extent, the Tigers can still salvage this season. A win in Knoxville, a win in College Station (hell, while we're at it, why not both?) is not out of the question.
The bottom hasn't fallen out. Missouri is at .500. They were in worse shape a year ago, sitting 4-and-5 after a loss to Baylor. A day later, they joined the SEC. Missouri won its final four games. It all looked so rosy then.
It was good then. Maybe it can be again. But right now, that leap of faith is too long for many to make.
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