When Gary Pinkel arrived at Missouri, one of his top priorities was creating a home-field advantage for the Tigers football team.
Memorial Stadium was dubbed “The Zou,” and there was more fan engagement, helping foster a more electric atmosphere for Missouri and, by extension, a more hostile one for opponents.
By and large, it’s worked. Missouri is 61-25 during Pinkel’s tenure.
Since Pinkel’s first season in 2001, when the Tigers went 2-4 at home, Missouri has finished below .500 at home only one time, in 2012.
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During the last 13 seasons, Missouri boasts a .738 win percentage at home, including unblemished 6-0 marks in 2010, 2007 and 2003.
That advantage hasn’t shown up in 2014.
The Tigers started 2-0 at home against South Dakota State and Central Florida, but losses to Indiana and a home shutout loss against Georgia followed.
Missouri returned to the winning track last Saturday, knocking off Vanderbilt 24-14, but “The Zou” felt uncharacteristically lifeless — or perhaps just understandably anxious given the offense’s recent struggles.
“Protecting ‘The Zou’ and getting that tradition back in ‘The Zou,’ those last couple games were not what we are and not who we are as the Missouri Tiger football team,” junior center Evan Boehm said. “We’re going to start getting back to our old traditions and our old ways.”
Saturday might provide the perfect opportunity.
“SEC Nation,” the new SEC Network’s version of ESPN’s “College GameDay,” makes it first appearance at Missouri, which plays host to Kentucky for a 3 p.m. kickoff.
“It’s going to be real big,” Pinkel said. “We want all our fans there at 8 o’clock when they start video and things like that. … It’s the University of Missouri’s shot at showing how great Mizzou is. It’s not only great for our football program, but it’s great for the University of Missouri. Hopefully, our fans will get out there and do what they do and make a great showing.”
The Wildcats are riding a 19-game road losing streak and haven’t won a conference road game since nipping Georgia in 2009. The last road win of any kind came at Louisville in 2010.
Kentucky at Missouri
WHEN: 3 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Columbia
TV: SEC Network
Other story lines
▪ MURPHY HAS SMITH IN SIGHTS: Missouri senior Marcus Murphy, who currently ranks second in the NCAA in all-purpose yards per game (145.6), needs 64 yards Saturday to pass Brad Smith for second place on the Tigers’ career all-purpose yards list. Jeremy Maclin is first (5,609) following by Smith (4,419) and Murphy (4,356).
▪ BRINSER ON WATCH LIST: Missouri senior Christian Brinser is one of 80 candidates for the Ray Guy Award, given annually since 2000 to the nation’s top punter. Brinser, a Liberty graduate, ranks ninth in the SEC in punting, averaging 42.6 yards on 45 punts with seven longer than 50 yards and 16 dropped inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
▪ DOMINANT D? Only one opponent this season has gained more yards than it averages against Missouri’s defense. Indiana, which averages 460 yards per game, clocked the Tigers for 493 total yards, but every other foe finished worse than its average. Kentucky ranks eighth in the NCAA, averaging 426.5 yards per game.