Tigers change some minds
NASHVILLE, TN--You know, it isn't all that easy to admit you were wrong. But I'm here to do it. And frankly, I should have a lot of company.
I picked this Missouri team to win seven games. I didn't believe in my heart of hearts it would win that many. I put no stock in Murray State, dismissed Toledo, insisted a win at Indiana was nothing to brag about and started to think seven might be optimistic through three quarters of the Arkansas State game.
Before the season, I had believed that if this team somehow started 5-and-0, I would then believe it was good. Well, we're there.
Missouri didn't just move to 5-and-0 in ho-hum fashion on Saturday night in Nashville. The Tigers rushed there in a blitzkrieg attack that left the (ahem) hostile crowd at Vanderbilt Stadium in shock. Missouri led by 17 points less than seven minutes in. It led by 20 before the Commodores managed a first down.
"It wasn't a perfect performance," Gary Pinkel would say after what ended up as a 51-28 win that wasn't really even that close.
Well, maybe not. But it was as close as I can remember by a Missouri team against a legitimate opponent in quite a while. Sure, the Commodores piled up some yards in the second half. But had Vanderbilt done everything right in the last 30 minutes and Mizzou done everything wrong, I'm still not sure the Tigers would have lost.
But anyway, Missouri made me pay attention some time during that first quarter on Saturday. Usually, players shy away from admitting they made a statement. Not on this night.
"Definitely," E.J. Gaines said. "As seniors and as leaders, we came out and talked about how underrated we were and people were already looking over us. People were definitely sleeping on us and I think we might have woke them up with this game."
It's fun (well, I guess it is because they all say it) for players and coaches to say that they don't hear the criticism and they don't pay heed to the doubters. But they do.
"We've been getting a lot of criticism about the SEC," Kentrell Brothers said. "How we don't belong and all that."
Missouri sure looked like it belonged on Saturday night. That's not a bad Vanderbilt team. It's not a great one. Yes, the Commodores stand 0-3 in league play now (and get Georgia, A&M and Florida in their next three), but they aren't as hapless as the Tigers made them look. Two weeks ago, we all said, "Yeah, but it's only Indiana." The Hoosiers beat Penn State by 20 on Saturday. Eventually, maybe Missouri deserves a bit of credit for making some of these teams look so awful.
"Seems like we're the underdog every week, but we embrace it. We love it. At the end of the day, predictions really mean nothing," L'Damian Washington said. "If predictions meant anything you wouldn't have to play the game on Saturday."
Now that they're playing the games, it's like the Tigers want to let us find out what they seem to have believed for quite a while.
"I think I've got some special guys here," Pinkel said. "What does that mean? I don't know. We're gonna try to win every game. I like this team. I liked it before."
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suddenly saying I think the Tigers are going to win every game. I'm pretty sure they won't. But they're most certainly going to win more than they lose. They ought to win plenty to shut down some of that "Oh my Lord, what a terrible decision they made, they can't compete in the SEC, they may never win another game" talk. How good can this team be and just how much should we take out of Saturday night?
"That's up to people to decide," Andrew Baggett said. "We know what we can do."
"Honestly, the sky's the limit for this team," Gaines said, refusing to be so bashful. "We got great players on offense, defense, special teams, young guys stepping up and making plays so we'll see where we go from here."
Where they go from here is to Athens, Georgia. For Pinkel, it's back to work, one more chance to show some of us we might not know as much as we thought we knew about this team.
"Oh, I don't know," Pinkel said when asked how good this team can be. "I don't think we've played our best game yet and I think they know that. We can certainly improve as a team."
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