Missouri coach Gary Pinkel doesn’t expect a double-overtime loss against South Carolina to linger.
The Tigers, 7-1, had a perfect season ended in gut-wrenching fashion Saturday — blowing a 17-point fourth-quarter lead, allowing a Gamecocks touchdown on fourth and goal from the 15 in the first overtime and, finally, when Andrew Baggett’s 24-yard field goal try in the second OT stoinked off the left upright.
But Missouri won’t hang its head and feel sorry for itself.
“If you’re a player here, why would you not be encouraged?” Pinkel said. “We’ve got a great chance to finish. November’s a huge month. We’ve got a great football team that works so hard. We’ve got great players.”
He continued, “You should be the most fired-up football player in America with the opportunity and the options that we have in front of us. But we’ve got to take care of our business. That’s the beauty of playing and that’s the beauty of football and coaching.”
That’s not to say that the loss to South Carolina wasn’t painful. It was incredibly painful.
“Sometimes, you have to learn a hard lesson,” senior wide receiver L’Damian Washington said. “ I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. It stung a little bit, but I know I had to come in here with a positive mindset and with a smile on my face just to let my teammates know that life goes on and the season is still the exact same thing. The goals didn’t change and the big picture is still there.”
Missouri practiced Sunday afternoon and redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk said the team “was refocused, redialed and ready to go.”
There are a few players still around from the 2010 team, which seemed to let one loss snowball into a second.
“We just can’t think about last week’s game and can’t let it affect us for this week,” senior cornerback Randy Ponder said. “It was a bad taste in our mouth, but we can’t let it have a domino effect.”
Memories of how a stinging 31-17 loss at Nebraska — after Missouri had reached 7-0 by knocking off third-ranked Oklahoma the week before — lingered and led to another loss the next week at Texas Tech aren’t forgotten.
“It can go two ways,” said senior cornerback E.J. Gaines, who is expected to return after missing the last two games. “We can either get down on ourselves and have a bunch of losses in a row or we can get back at it and do what we do. Get on our grind and hopefully get a win this week against Tennessee.”
So, what’s it going to take to put the South Carolina game in the rearview and keep it there?
“It’s going to take an intense focus on the present,” senior left guard Max Copeland said. “The past is a part of us, but it’s not who we are. The important thing — and I’ve said this before, I know it’s cliché — but when you lose, it’s important not to lose the lesson or it’s just pain for nothing. So, that’s what we’re doing. We’re extracting the little seed of wisdom. We’re casting away the shell and we’re focusing on the present right now and the task at hand.”
After all, Missouri still has some lofty achievements in its sights, starting with a Southeastern Conference East Division crown and a berth in the conference title game Dec. 7 at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
At 3-1 in conference play, Missouri remains a game up in the loss column. With wins against Florida, 3-2 and Georgia, 3-2, the Tigers’ lead over those teams is effectively a two games because they own the tiebreaker.
But South Carolina, 4-2, owns a tiebreaker against Missouri, meaning one more loss puts the Tigers in jeopardy of slipping from the top spot in the standings.
Still, Missouri controls its fate with respect to the conference race.
“Our goals are still reachable,” Washington said. “Alabama two years in a row has won the national championship both times with a loss during the regular-season, so I don’t see why our goal can be anything less than a national championship or an SEC East championship.”