Columbia, Mo. On even the cloudiest day, there's a bit of blue sky. With consecutive dispiriting losses threatening to ruin their season, Missouri coaches are reminding players of that fact.
Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has a particularly daunting task this week, after the Tigers were torched for 56 points by top-ranked Texas.
"Whenever you face adversity, you've got to be positive with the players," Eberflus said Monday. "They're certainly feeling down a little bit about what's been going on the last couple of weeks, so as coaches we've been positive and upbeat and focusing on them having great attitudes."
Missouri (5-2, 1-2 Big 12) has taken quite a tumble the last two weeks with the no-contest 56-31 blowout at Texas on Saturday and a 28-23 home loss to Oklahoma State the previous week. The Tigers plummeted over that span from No. 3 to No. 16 in the Associated Press rankings.
Before then, the offense had been virtually unstoppable, averaging 53 points and led by a Heisman Trophy favorite, quarterback Chase Daniel. The defense, well, it would improve in time, just as it had last season.
That was before Texas' near-perfect 35-point first half.
The positives? Well, no one quit.
"The biggest thing I liked about the whole deal is our players stayed together," Eberflus said. "There was big adversity there, but they stuck together."
The midseason slump leaves a school that had considered itself national championship material happy to be in the Top 25, and leaves coaches and players alike preaching single-mindedness.
No one at coach Gary Pinkel's weekly media briefing could have departed not knowing the game-time for today's homecoming game against Colorado. As he and several players mentioned perhaps dozens of times, 4:30 p.m. is when they can start digging themselves out of the hole.
"Team goals are out the window right now," Daniel said. "5:30, that's the only thing that matters right now."
Colorado (4-3, 1-2 Big 12) is a big game because Missouri made it big, and all of the Tigers are painfully aware of that fact. Lookahead questions were pointless, even though a potential Big 12 title berth remains easily within reach, and Pinkel won't leave it to chance that players keep that tunnel vision.
"I can't magically tell you I can make them do that," Pinkel said. "But it would not be wise for anybody to think about last week. It really doesn't matter. Nothing matters except 5:30 Saturday."
Despite problems in all three phases that have been exposed the last two games, Missouri appears to have a fairly easy road to a showdown for the Big 12 North championship against Kansas on Nov. 29 in Kansas City. The next four opponents are a combined 13-15.
Kansas is 2-1 in conference play with a one-game lead in the North, but with a much tougher schedule ahead..
Last year similar
Missouri was in a similar trough last year, winning its first five before the bubble burst in a loss at Oklahoma and then rallying to reach its first Big 12 championship game. The Tigers were 12-2, shaking off a second loss to the Sooners and winning in their first Jan. 1 bowl game since 1970.
That experience could help.
"Anytime you've gone through something once, it's always going to help the second time," offensive guard Kurtis Gregory said.
Wide receiver Tommy Saunders believes players might have been too tight the last two games.
"Sometimes you get all wrapped up in everything that's going on around here, and sometimes you just forget to have fun out there," Saunders said. "That's why you play this game."