There’s an adage in sports, especially football, about not allowing a loss to beat you twice.
The idea is expressed by coaches after a disheartening defeat, one that can end dreams and alter aspirations.
Coaches and players can say the right things in the aftermath of a letdown, such as Missouri’s to South Carolina last weekend that punctured the Tigers’ perfect season. But for a game fueled by emotion, the tank and the sentiment can seem empty.
Mizzou, late in its Big 12 years, got caught in the spiral.
Not this time.
The Tigers reacted to last week’s gut-punch with determination and an edge Saturday, pounding out a 31-3 victory against a Tennessee team that was good enough to beat the Gamecocks two weeks before they shocked the Tigers.
Missouri did plenty right Saturday, and the outcome was decided by halftime after quarterback Maty Mauk had thrown touchdown passes to each of his big wide-receiver targets: L’Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas.
In their most complete game of the season, the Tigers dominated with their running game and defense. Even the first half’s surreal moment — kicker Andrew Baggett doinking a last-second 29-yard field-goal attempt off the left upright, the same action that ended the South Carolina game— provided irony, not foreboding.
But maybe none of that would have happened if the Tigers weren’t in the right place emotionally, and offensive guard and team free spirit Max Copeland insisted they were, starting last Sunday.
“We extracted the lesson from the loss and we had to shuck the shell, and remain in the present,” Copeland said. “That’s how we bounced back. We remained in the present. We asked ourselves, ‘How were we going to win today?’ ”
By realizing what’s ahead. Tigers coach Gary Pinkel missed last Sunday’s team activities while attending the memorial service of his mentor, Don James. When he returned Tuesday, he laid it out for the Tigers.
“The only thing I told them was why in the world would you even think about last week’s game?” Pinkel said. “Are you kidding me? We were 7-1 and 3-1 in the league, and we’ve got four games left in November. I’ll take that for the rest of my career, forever.
“Maybe it wasn’t necessary, because I trust these kids.”
The bitterness of blowing last week’s 17-0 fourth-quarter lead was wiped away, and Missouri also left some history in the dust.
Recall 2008: In Chase Daniel’s final season, the Tigers crushed Nebraska in Lincoln, improving to 5-0 and jumping to No. 3 in the polls.
Missouri lost the next week at home to Oklahoma State and then got blown out at Texas the week after.
In 2010, Blaine Gabbert’s final season, Mizzou improved to 7-0 by knocking off an Oklahoma team that was ranked first in the BCS standings.
Those Tigers climbed from outside the rankings to No. 7 in the polls in a matter of weeks. But a week after the conquest of the Sooners, Mizzou lost at Nebraska. No real harm, until the next week, when the Tigers laid an egg at Texas Tech. The Hangover, Part II.
The conditions of 2013 unfolded in eerily similar fashion. Missouri, a preseason pick to finish sixth in the division, had reached 7-0 and No. 5 in the BCS standings after knocking off Georgia and Florida in succession when South Carolina yanked out the Tigers’ heart.
That made Missouri a mystery team this week, and so did the quarterback situation. Injured starter James Franklin warmed up and appeared to throw without stress on his sprained shoulder. Would Franklin trot out with the starters and provide an emotional boost?
There was no need. Mauk found his favorite targets, and nearly everything else worked. And because it did, the Tigers’ primary objective of winning the division remains in reach.
If Mizzou wins out, it will take the East and play in the SEC championship game with a BCS Bowl berth on the line. That’s in play because the Tigers didn’t suffer successive setbacks. They didn’t let a loss beat them twice.