Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
No one would blame you for forgetting there is a Missouri football game today.
The program’s all-time winningest coach announced his resignation Friday because of a cancer diagnosis, and it might not have been the biggest story to break since the Tigers last played a down.
Last Saturday, two days after losing to Mississippi State, black members of the team placed a graduate student’s hunger strike on a national stage by striking alongside him until system president Tim Wolfe left office. Sunday, the entire team announced its backing of the boycott from team activities. Monday, Wolfe announced his resignation, and the strikes ended, with chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announcing his resignation hours later.
Friday, just as the dust began to settle, head coach Gary Pinkel announced he would retire at the end of the season, his 15th at Missouri, because of a non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis he received in May.
Now today, a week after the team announced its boycott, there will be a football game played at Arrowhead Stadium, as the Tigers (4-5, 1-5 Southeastern Conference) are set to kick off against BYU (7-2) at 6:30 p.m. (SEC Network-TV), right on schedule.
The team said it didn’t miss much during the less than 48 hours it was on strike. Pinkel said his coaches held their regular meetings, and the players worked out on their own while boycotting team activities.
“Today’s Monday,” receiver J’Mon Moore said, speaking to reporters hours after Wolfe’s resignation. “We’ve always got Monday off. So tomorrow is back to the normal week. We’re going to start in the morning, and get it rolling.”
That said, they’re happy to get back to business.
“We love football,” safety Anthony Sherrils said, “and we’re here to play football.”
Moore added: “With some of the things that were happening, we just had to focus on one thing at a time, but definitely with this being over with, this being settled, we can go back to doing what we love.”
If there is one thing that could help with Missouri’s hectic week, it’s that the Tigers had a long week anyway, coming off a loss last Thursday night to Mississippi State.
Though the defeat was Missouri’s fourth in a row, the Tigers made some progress on offense in the first half. The Tigers scored their first touchdown in more than a month, despite playing in torrential rain.
“We had some good drives, had some good looks, had some chemistry, especially with the weather, too,” Moore said. “So it was pretty good.”
Most of the improvement came in the run game, where Missouri racked up 215 yards total and had three tailbacks go for 60 or more yards.
The Tigers need that to continue.
“With you having a run game and you being able to threaten someone’s defense with a run game, that allows the pass game to open up,” Moore said. “So certain things on the defense start to open.”
Missouri’s offense will have to match a BYU offense that has scored 30 or more points six times this year. Moore, the only offensive player to speak with media members Monday, said there wasn’t any added pressure to get on the scoreboard.
“Every game the offense just comes with that mindset that we’ve got to score points,” he said. “We can’t, like I said before in the past, we can’t just depend on the defense to stop our opponent to a certain amount of points. We’re supposed to block and attack every time we get the ball. That’s the goal.”
The game will be Missouri’s seventh game at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Chiefs in Kansas City.
Moore said it would be the biggest stadium he’s ever played in. And there’s added motivation for Sherrils, who will be playing in his hometown. The redshirt sophomore said the Chiefs are his favorite team, and he’s been to about 10 NFL games there.
Five of the Tigers’ previous six games at Arrowhead were against archrival Kansas, with the Tigers going 4-1. The Tigers also played in the 2008 Big 12 championship game at Arrowhead, losing 62-21 to Oklahoma.
Then again, there’s not much precendent for a team come off the type of week Missouri has had.
Moore said at times it was hard to focus on football when Missouri was on strike. Still, he thinks the team’s stand could be a positive for the Tigers.
“This can do nothing but just make a team closer and tighter,” he said Monday. “Like coach (Gary) Pinkel always says, circle the wagons. This can do nothing but just bring us together and make us stronger.”
Notes: Missouri will be the home team. … The Tigers will be wearing new all-white uniforms, keeping with their tradition of breaking in new attire when playing at Arrowhead. The team wore a new white-jersey, yellow-pant combination in 2007, new gold jerseys in 2008, custom Nike “Beast Mode” uniforms with black-on-black helmets in 2009. The Tigers will be wearing all black in their final home game of the year, Nov. 21 against Tennessee. … This week, senior tailback Tyler Hunt was named one of 55 nominees for the Burlsworth Trophy, given to the nation’s top player who began his college career as a walk-on. Hunt, a graduate of Westran High School, has five catches for 201 yards, 20 carries for 139 yards, and is responsible for Missouri’s four longest plays of the year.