By Darren Hellwege
Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator
That there would be a segment of Missouri fans in need of therapy after Saturday’s loss to South Carolina is small surprise. I’ve been around long enough to know that some Tiger partisans are so used to an assumption of negativity that the school’s fight song may have to be changed to “Gloom, Despair, and Agony On Me.”
Reactions last weekend ranged from the typical expressions of, “I knew they’d wreck it,” to some deeply nasty attacks on sophomore kicker Andrew Baggett, whose missed field goal at the end of the second overtime is being given way, way too much blame for this loss.
So, in the hopes of lifting spirits a little around these parts, I thought it useful to remind the Tiger faithful of a few things.
First of all, let’s remember that whatever happens this is still a very special season for Missouri football. The Tigers are back in the eye of the football world, have proven they belong in the SEC, have erased the embarrassment of the 5-7 disaster of 2012.
Let’s also remember than there’s not a single meaningful goal that has disappeared. Take a look at the national championship teams of the last few seasons:
In five of the last seven seasons (and in many other years throughout history) teams have won a national title without a spotless record. Given the fact that all these teams came from the Southeastern Conference, it’s pretty obvious that should Missouri win out, and defeat whomever they might face in the SEC Championship Game (probably Alabama, though Auburn won’t go away without a fight) the Tigers would absolutely have a claim on a spot in the BCS Championship Game.
Let’s take the shorter view. The main goal of any team is to win your league. For Missouri, that means the championship of the SEC Eastern Division. The loss to South Carolina did not destroy Missouri’s chances, the team is still in good shape. Win the games remaining and they’ll win the division and control its own destiny. That’s all any team can ask. Winning the conference isn’t accomplished yet, obviously. The biggest worry of the teams behind Missouri is South Carolina. Should there be a tie between the two schools, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head competition, so obviously if Missouri and USC end up with two losses, the Gamecocks will head to Atlanta for the championship game. If there are three or more teams tied, there’s a formula more complicated than the Dewey Decimal System.
So, if Missouri is to be in Atlanta at the end of things, they probably need to win out. And while that’s a major undertaking, there is one factor we need to bear in mind: the toughest of the remaining games, the finale against Texas A&M, should see Missouri back to full strength at quarterback. While Maty Mauk’s done admirably the last couple of weeks, it’s obvious how much better this team is with James Franklin.
What I’m saying is, people in the clutches of gloom, take a deep breath and relax a little.
And let’s also bring in a little perspective about Saturday’s game. Yes the loss was a gut-drop but if anyone says they expected this Missouri team to be undefeated, they’re spinning you a yarn. We are all surprised by—and should be pleased with—the outstanding performance of this year’s team rather than bashing them for one game.
And speaking of bashing…
There is no excuse—not a winless season, not missing a 19-yard kick with a Super Bowl on the line, not leaving a toaster over on and accidentally burning down the locker room—that can justify the bile being sent Baggett’s way. Yes, he missed a fairly short kick that would have extended (not won) the game, and yes it’s a disappointing loss and people are going to be ticked. But we should all be ashamed of some of the nasty comments being made.
A quick glance at Twitter showed people saying Baggett should die, advising he “sleep with one eye open,” slinging the most vulgar of slurs and insults, and generally disgracing the entire fan base of Missouri and anyone who ever watched a football game. The idiocy involved is demonstrated by such comments as “you single-handedly ruined our season,” “thanks for ruining my fantasy points,” and “you go to school for free for something you are horrible at.” Horrible? Baggett was a preseason all-conference pick and prior to this week led the entire conference in scoring.
There were a lot of other problems in this loss. I know for a fact Mauk was nowhere near satisfied with his performance. I’ve seen this guy a lot and you expect more than 10 completions in 25 attempts out of him. The running game wasn’t as strong as we’ve seen it most of the year. Dorial Green-Beckham had a couple of drops, very tough passes but passes you have to bring in to be the superstar he’s capable of becoming. And of course nobody has to point out the defensive letdowns in the fourth quarter. While I picked Connor Shaw the best QB in the SEC in my preseason All-Conference poll, he shouldn’t have come in and shredded the Tigers as he did, and how on earth do you let a team score on fourth-and-goal from the 15 in OT?
I don’t like finger pointing at all, but if you want to do it, bring extra fingers because there’s plenty of blame to go around.
I know Baggett’s got a lot of strength and courage, and a set of teammates and coaches around him that won’t let him accept responsibility alone. You win as a team, you lose as a team. It could be pointed out that we’re talking about the best freshman kicker in the SEC, and one of the best in the nation, last season and a guy who is among the nation’s leaders in touchbacks this year. But I personally look at this and realize we’re talking about a 20 year old college kid who had one play in a game go a little off. He’s receiving a level of anger and hate we usually reserve for the worst criminals or members of Congress. A little perspective isn’t that much to ask, is it?
Darren Hellwege, Sports Director
Member of Football Writers Association of America and
United States Basketball Writers Association