Missouri Ready for Round Two
By BJ Bennett
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Looking ahead to the spring practice 2013, optimism, in Columbia, Missouri, has returned.
Early in the evening on Saturday, September 8th, the Missouri football program officially had the SEC's attention. After a pre-season full of hearing reasons why they simply couldn't compete in college football's toughest conference, the league's latest Tigers had 7th ranked Georgia up against in the ropes in front of a sold-out, gold-out Faurot Field and a primetime national television audience.
Well past halftime, Missouri led the defending division champions 17-9 and maintained a 20-17 edge with less than one minute to play in the third quarter. Marlon Brown then broke open on an 11-yard touchdown strike to give Georgia their first lead of the night. The flood gates soon followed. Brown's catch included, the Bulldogs outscored the homestanding Tigers 24-0 in the game's final 15:51. The run, prompted by turnovers, was an abrupt turn of events that completely changed the course of Missouri's much-anticipated opener. In retrospect, perhaps their debut season as well.
An injury to star quarterback James Franklin and the disappointment of missed opportunity left the Tigers weakened and woozy. Franklin's arm, and the air of confidence that once surrounded the team, was busted.
"You can't make mistakes, the kind of mistakes we made in the game like that, and survive," acknowledged Missouri head football coach Gary Pinkel. "You're not going to win games like that against people like that if you make some of the mistakes we made.
Forced to rely heavily on freshman quarterback Corbin Berkstresser, the Tigers would drop consecutive conference games to South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Alabama before rallying to a 33-10 drubbing of Kentucky, an inspired effort at Florida and a key triumph at Tennessee. On Rocky Top, an Andrew Baggett field goal proved to be the difference in a 51-48 four overtime frenzy. Though that win would be Missouri's final victory of the 2012 season, it provided powerful perspective and helped lay the foundation for improvement moving forward.
"I think there's only one way to get confidence: you have to have success. There's no other way that it happens," Pinkel explained. "That was a very emotional win. It was a very tough game. I think attitude wise, it's a great way to refill our tanks a little bit. We haven't won back-to-back games this year. It's been a long time since that's happened. We've had a difficult schedule."
Looking ahead to the spring practice 2013, optimism, in Columbia, has returned. Back are eight offensive starters, Franklin among them, and six starters on defense. Dynamic tailback Henry Josey, 1,168 rushing yards two years ago, has returned from injury to team with Franklin, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and four front line mainstays to give the Tigers one of the league's more potent offensive attacks.
Though Missouri won't have their second-ever SEC home opener until October 19th against Florida, the Gators, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas A&M will each come to town on what appears to be a relatively-favorable fall schedule. Following their first losing year since 2004, the Tigers are eying the upcoming weather change as the starting point for their return to the postseason.
Missouri's inaugural SEC showing didn't go quite as they expected. Though there may be less outside anticipation and overall attention, this is a program anxiously awaiting its encore performance.