KANSAS CITY, Missouri (AP) — The situation couldn’t seem simpler for Missouri as it heads into Friday’s game with Arkansas: Wayne and the Tigers qualify for a bowl game, lose and sit home for the holidays.
However, there is more to riding on the score than the chance to play another match in December in fair weather.
The Tigers, who qualified for bowl games each of head coach Eli Drinkowitz’s first two seasons, are still trying to get their program back to center stage. 500 finish against a tough schedule can be seen as a sign of progress, while a second straight loss to the Razorbacks will give Missouri its first losing season since 2016.
“I think we’re improving the talent. I think we’re improving the way we go through that process. I see a lot of growth. I see a lot of things to be excited about,” said Drinkowitz. “I think football is about gaining momentum and confidence as you build, And looking forward to what lies ahead, there are some more appropriate schedules that allow you to gain momentum.”
This season has definitely been a bear.
After an opening win over Louisiana Tech, the Tigers are blown on the road by former Big 12 rival Kansas State, who may be playing for the Big 12 title by the end of the week. After returning home to take on Abilene Christian, the Tigers kicked off the SEC with road trips to Auburn and Florida around a home game against No. 1 Georgia.
In fact the Tigers acquitted themselves well during this stretch.
At least everywhere except in the win-lose column.
The Tigers beat Auburn in regulation when power kicker Harrison Mevis missed a shot, then won the game in overtime before Nathaniel Pitt fumbled the ball just outside the end zone. The result: a 17-14 loss.
The next week, the Tigers gave the Bulldogs their toughest game yet, going 16-6 at halftime and holding the advantage until the fourth quarter. That’s when the Bulldogs scored back-to-back touchdowns to eliminate a 10-point deficit, prompting the go-ahead score with 4:03 left for Georgia to win 26-22.
Down in the bog, the Tigers rallied from six early players to set up a 10-tying game with Florida at halftime. And they were still on the verge of a touchdown when Brady Cook’s fourth pass near midfield fell incomplete with about a minute left, allowing the Gators to escape with a 24-17 victory.
The Tigers lost again to Kentucky, making it a four-team loss in conference to four potentially championship-tied teams by 18 points, when a positive score in any of them would have landed Missouri headed to a bowl game already.
“We all want it to be straight — linear — but rarely in my life has success looked like this,” said Drinkowitz, who signed a contract extension earlier this season. “It’s always been a process in building, and there are days when you wear your toe off. It doesn’t mean you cut your toe off. You carry on and go to work, and that’s frustrating for fans and frustrating for people, but it’s not frustrating for me when I see a vision of what we can achieve.”
Much of that frustration can be tossed aside if the Tigers (5-6, 2-5) take care of the Razorbacks (6-5, 3-4) shrapnel on Friday.
Missouri will be sent to a bowl game – maybe it’s the Liberty Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, or Music City Bowl. It would give the Tigers about three more weeks of training, which would be invaluable for a young team. And he will confirm what Drinkowitz has been preaching, namely, that his program is on the right track heading into next season.
“I didn’t put any thought process into the season overview and all that. All I focus on is this game, this week, 1-0, stacking up to that,” Drinkowitz said, “And after Friday’s game, I’ll take 48 hours and think about where everything is. But my mind right now is marshalling this team to get ready to play our best game.”
To report a correction or misspelling, please send an email firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2022 KY3. All rights reserved.