In the week after Missouri’s last-second loss to then-No. 11 Kentucky, offensive line coach Brad Davis put his trust in the Tigers’ players. He said he’d give his linemen tools to succeed, but it was their choice whether or not to use them.
They had to seize control of their performance.
“He told us straight up: If we want to win, put it on our backs,” senior lineman Kevin Pendleton said. “We felt a responsibility and a sense of ownership to go out and be successful.”
Davis’ motivation worked. Missouri jumped ahead to an early lead against No. 13 Florida Saturday, and the Tigers did not relent. They won 38-17, scoring more than they had in any conference game this season.
Junior tackle Yasir Durant said practice was intense leading up to the Florida game. The line focused on small details like finishing practice periods strong, which helped build endurance. When the Tigers stepped onto the field for the second half in Gainesville, they were energized and ready to go.
While watching film as a position group, Durant said Pendleton and fellow senior Paul Adams made sure to keep their teammates focused. Their presence served as motivation for the other linemen.
“This is their last couple of games,” Durant said. “We want to send them out on the right note.”
Pendleton said Davis challenges him to think about the legacy he leaves at Missouri. Davis played for Oklahoma and won a national title with the Sooners in 2000. The coach can return to his alma mater with his kids, walk through the facilities and point out titles and accomplishments he helped achieve: That’s the mark he left at Oklahoma. Pendleton and Adams have a few remaining games to cement their impact in Columbia.
“We want to take Mizzou to the next level,” Pendleton said. “That starts by winning games and getting us on the national spotlight, getting in the top-25, and finishing the season off right. It starts with Vandy.”
The Tigers had to move past an emotional loss to prepare for the Florida game. Ahead of a home matchup against Vanderbilt, they have to move past an emotional win.
Adams has a 24-hour rule for his football games, whether they are wins or losses. He gives himself a day to feel the excitement or pain that comes with competition, then forces himself to flush out the emotion. It’s what he did after Kentucky, and he said it’s what he’s done after Florida.
The Tigers enter Saturday’s showdown as heavy favorites. Vanderbilt’s record sits at 4-5, and Missouri opened as a two-touchdown favorite.
“I don’t look into favorites, none of that Vegas stuff,” Pendleton said. “We’ve still got to line up and go out and play them on Saturday. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Pendleton said Vanderbilt will study Missouri’s mistakes against Florida, so the Tigers will have to be ready to make changes. The senior harped on a holding penalty called against him in the Florida game. He said it’s an example of small mistakes Missouri must avoid.
The line didn’t make many of those mistakes against the Gators, though. Behind the line’s blockers, Missouri rushed for 231 yards. Quarterback Drew Lock had time in the pocket and threw for 250 more. Pendleton said it was the best the Tigers’ offensive line has performed all season. Missouri built a lead, and they never let the Gators back in the game.
“Florida ran a hell of a defense, and I think the reason we were able to execute it and get the running game and passing game going was because we were so focused on little stuff and the little cues they have in their defense,” Durant said. “We practiced it every single day. Even in the meetings we would go over it twice, three times just to make sure to get it right.”
Adams said that film sessions following the Kentucky loss were quiet. The pain of defeat felt fresh. After Florida on the other hand, players sang in the weight room, and the linemen made jokes during film sessions.
Life feels lighter after a win, especially when your position group was a big part of it.