Story by Darren Hellwege
Photos by Nick Gerhardt
There are a lot of clichés about excuses, most of which are inappropriate for a family website. Let’s say they all stink and leave it at that. Mizzou doesn’t get to make excuses after the football team lost 24-17 to No. 20 Kansas State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Saturday.
No excuses. The Tigers just plain blew it.
There will be those who disagree, but the better team did not win on Saturday. Mizzou should have won this game. They were and are a better football team. But, time and time again, opportunities were thrown away and numerous mistakes sabotaged what might have been a winning effort.
It all started virtually the moment the Tigers stepped off the bus. Coach Gary Pinkel said throughout the week that the Tigers had to get the ball to All-American tight end Michael Egnew more. In Mizzou’s first four games he had only eight catches. But, Pinkel quickly added, they couldn’t force the ball to Egnew.
On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback James Franklin tried to force the ball to Egnew. Kansas State’s Ty Zimmerman intercepted the pass and the Wildcats’ offense turned it into a touchdown. Before the game was five minutes old the Tigers were down 7-0.
Both Egnew and Franklin said the interception was their fault. “The read was there. I should have gone underneath the defender instead of on top,” Egnew explained. Franklin’s explanation was even more technical. They stood up like men. No excuses.
After the first quarter Missouri — a team with an All-American tight end, a talented young quarterback, several strong receivers and a new-found star at running back — had a total of zero yards of offense.
After that, MU became perhaps even more exasperating. While the defense tightened up, the offense moved the ball. Henry Josey made some nice runs and Franklin started hitting on some passes. But nothing much came of it. A 12-play, 58-yard drive ended with a field goal. Another stalled at the Kansas State 35 and ended with a punt.
The final drive of the half saw the Tigers move 57 yards before ending with one of the great mysteries of this entirely baffling season: a missed field goal by Grant Ressel.
It was only the third time in the last five seasons the Tigers have scored as little as three points in the first half. But even then, trailing 10-3, the Tigers had to feel like they had a good chance to win the game.
The second half started in a positive way as MU intercepted K-State quarterback Collin Klein on just the second play from scrimmage. New life, new momentum?
Instead, the Tigers teased fans once again with a long drive that finished with another missed field goal. After having missed three field goals in his first two years combined, Ressel has now missed six in the first five games of the 2011 season.
“It’s like Tiger Woods,” Ressel said. “He’s in a slump, you know? Eventually he’s going to figure it out, he’s going to be great again. He’s Tiger Woods. He’s the best golfer there is. I’m a pretty good kicker and eventually I’ve got to get back into my swing.”
From there the game, with the teams still just a touchdown apart, went from bad to worse for MU. After a defensive stand that looked to give the momentum back to the Tigers, along with the ball, freshman linebacker Darvin Ruise committed a roughing the punter penalty on Ryan Doerr. The 15-yard penalty sent the Mizzou defense back onto the field.
“It’s always tough when you have to go back on the field after you think it’s done,” defensive end Brad Madison said. Seven plays later Klein scored from three yards out and put the ‘Cats on top 17-3.
In the fourth the Tigers, as they’ve done in all three losses this season, put a late rally together to pull tantalizingly close. Down 21 points with more than 11 minutes left, Franklin engineered an impressive drive, covering 79 yards in 12 plays. Josey scored the first touchdown of the day for Mizzou and it was 24-10.
After going nowhere on three plays Kansas State punted back to Mizzou, who proceeded to put another scoring drive together. When Franklin scored from the 1, suddenly it was 24-17.
But it was too little, too late. KSU got the ball with 5:30 left and was able to get key first downs before running out the clock. Missouri never had possession again.
With the loss, the Tigers fall to 2-3 on the season.
“We just are not playing very good football right now,” Pinkel said. “It starts with me. I’m not doing a good enough job coaching these guys. I made a lot of mistakes, this does not look like a very well-coached team.”
Pinkel wasn’t the only one pointing fingers at himself.
“I might have played my worst game as a Missouri Tiger,” T.J. Moe said.
“We cannot win games like that,” Jacquies Smith said. “We cannot wait until the last minute to try to make these runs.”
“I think everybody’s angry on this team,” said defensive lineman Dominique Hamilton. “We just got to stick together.”
So, the Tigers are 2-3. Can they pull it together?
This writer has absolutely no idea. Missouri came within a whisker of beating a strong Arizona State team. They played the No. 1 team in America very closely. And on this day, they outplayed Kansas State, when not beating themselves. Unlike many observers, I think Missouri is still a very talented team. The Tigers should be 4-1, and with a few breaks even 5-0. Instead, they have a losing record for the first time since 2004.
Maybe Grant Ressel will find his swing this week in practice. Maybe the linemen will stop jumping offsides, the personal fouls and the turnovers will stop. Maybe whatever appears to be bewitching this team when the game is on the line will fix itself. There is exactly one team left on the schedule (Oklahoma State) that I think Missouri has very little chance of beating. They could end up 8-4.
Or, they can keep playing as they did today at Kansas State. If that happens, this season could end up in a place Tiger fans haven’t been in a long time during the bowl season. At home, watching on TV.
And making excuses.