Following Saturday's 24-10 win over Ole Miss, Gary Pinkel was asked about his team's poise in a critical road game.
"It doesn't matter where we play a game, it doesn't matter who we play," Pinkel said. "Now they've got to analyze film, they've got to analyze the people they play against, but when it's all said and done, it doesn't matter who we're playing and it does not matter where we're playing. It matters how we play."
That might sound arrogant at first blush. To me, it sounded like the type of thing Pinkel hasn't said very often in the 11 years I have covered him. But I don't think he meant it in a cocky way at all.
"We haven't been perfect. We're not perfect. There's nothing perfect about what I do for a living," Pinkel said. "But they have a lot of trust with one another. They're close. They wake up on Saturday and you know that the guy next to you has done every single thing he can do to play his best. That doesn't mean you're gonna win the game either."
What Pinkel meant is simple: When Missouri does its work, when the Tigers play as well as they can, they feel like they can match up with anybody in America. At this point, it's kind of tough to argue.
Missouri has had at least a two-touchdown lead in every game. Each of its ten wins has come by at least two touchdowns. The Tigers haven't trailed in the fourth quarter of any game and haven't trailed in the second half on the road. It is the Tigers' first unbeaten road season since 1979 (that team lost five of its six home games).
Very rarely does any team run through a season without being challenged, or without having to change their M.O. Truly elite teams largely have one thing in common: They can win in a variety of ways.
Missouri has won with offense, ranking among the nation's top 16 teams in both yards and points. The Tigers have won with defense, leading the SEC in sacks and turnover margin, while ranking second in scoring defense. The Tigers have won by running the ball (more than 350 yards against Tennessee) and by throwing the ball (five touchdown passes against Kentucky). Every time something has been taken away, the Tigers have leaned on something else to get a win.
Multiple times, the experts have forecast a shootout. Indiana has a high-flying offense, Georgia was sure to light up the scoreboard, Ole Miss had the skill position talent to match the Tigers. None of those have really come to fruition, as the Tigers haven't given up 28 points and have yet to find the offense that has been able to score with them (yes, South Carolina won, but still, the Gamecocks scored only 17 in regulation. That game had more to do with Missouri's lack of offense and missed opportunities than anything else).
Now, in their final regular season game, the Tigers meet the most potent offense it has seen. Texas A&M is averaging nearly six points per game more than Missouri and Alabama and outgaining second-place Auburn by 52.7 yards per game. The Aggies are led by defending Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who Pinkel called "the best player in college football" on Saturday night.
Of course, the Aggies have some serious defensive deficiencies, which have them sitting a disappointing 8-3. A&M has given up at least 24 points in nine of its 11 games and surrendered at least 30 seven times. The Aggies are 12th in passing defense, 13th in scoring defense, and 14th in passing and total defense in the Southeastern Conference. Maybe this is the week we finally see a shootout.
It is the biggest home game in more than half a century. It is a game Missouri has to win to play in the SEC Championship Game and to keep its national title hopes alive. Ten times in eleven games, Missouri has found a way to win. Which way will it be this weekend?