Humiliating? Yes — but not catastrophic


Missouri Tigers to play West Virginia today at 11 a.m. Photo by Envato Elements

Elliot Bachrach

Saturday, Aug. 31 started off as an exciting day for Mizzou fans. The Tigers’ 2019 season opener was set to kick off at 6:30 p.m. in the isolated borough that is Laramie, Wyoming. With the addition of transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant out of Clemson, along with returning offensive weapons Albert Okwuegbunam, Larry Rountree III and Jonathon Nance, the start of this season was highly anticipated. Tiger fans looked forward to a showcase of the talented bunch in what was expected to be a rout of the overmatched Wyoming Cowboys. Everything was peachy in Columbia, Mo. That is until there were seven minutes and 54 seconds left in the second quarter. 

Mizzou came out flying early, going up 14-0 in the first quarter and on pace to blowout Wyoming; as it should be. Even after Wyoming got a field goal early in the second quarter, Mizzou was still in a good position to pull away with the game. But a blunder of ball security by Bryant triggered a fumble at the Tigers’ 30-yard line that was immediately scooped up by Wyoming and sent straight to the house. If Mizzou had flipped the switch and gotten any points — even a field goal — Wyoming’s hopes would have been reduced to almost nothing. The very next drive Bryant completed a 2-yard pass to Okwegbunam that initially was ruled a touchdown. Mizzou would have trumped the dreams of an inferior squad, and at first it appeared they did. The yellow flag thrown by the official obstructed these hopes. A 15-yard pass interference penalty called on number 81 Okwuegbunam —  no touchdown. What ticks me about this play is that it was completely unnecessary for Okwuegbunam to push off the defender in the first place. He would have caught the ball either way. The following play Bryant threw an interception to Wyoming defender Cash Maluia. And that’s when everything went haywire.
The Cowboys would go on to score 27 points in the second quarter alone, one-upping Missouri’s 14 point run in the first quarter. The Mizzou defense looked atrocious, the offense was lousy and even when the Tigers picked up their offense in the 4th quarter for a few touchdowns; it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if Missouri played at an elevation of 7,215 feet at War Memorial Stadium or at its own Faurot Field at a much more comfortable level of altitude, the Tigers would lose every time with their sloppy play. You just can’t win football games with careless mistakes, especially games against a quarterback like Sean Chambers who rushed for more yards (120) than he passed (92). Virtually being a running back, he obviously couldn’t rely on his passing game. It’s ludicrous that they let up that many rushing yards in the first place. If Mizzou had just forced him to throw the ball, he wouldn’t have had any success. 

The way the Tigers played last Saturday is inexcusable. I have watched Mizzou play since I was 2 years old, and this is the worst Tiger defeat that I can remember. To be that poorly prepared for Wyoming — a non-Power Five school, a team that the Tigers beat 40-13 last season, a team that went just 4-4 in conference play in the weak Mountain West Conference (MWC) — is absurd. I am almost ashamed to be a Mizzou fan; almost like how the Southeastern Conference (SEC) is undoubtedly embarrassed to be the conference of the Tigers. (Then again, the SEC is also home to the Tennessee Volunteers, who had an even more brutal loss to Georgia State.
Fault wasn’t exclusive to the players, but it lies on the coaches as well. Mizzou underestimated the Cowboys going into the game and got too confident after being up 14 points in the first quarter. It is the responsibility of the coaches to make sure their players don’t let up and mow down its remaining faith of the competition. I’m not calling for Head Coach Barry Odom’s job or anything, but when one is trying to increase attendance of the once packed Memorial Stadium, a loss to a team like Wyoming certainly doesn’t help, especially when attendance has declined since the 2015-16 season despite a pair of winning seasons.

People don’t pay money to see a team that loses to Wyoming. Additionally, the athletic program is seeking to attract more recruits and fans with the newly built South End Zone and other state of the art facilities, but a loss like this to an underwhelming Wyoming doesn’t bode well for future Missouri recruiting. Recruiting may not be everything as Mizzou has had successful seasons without the highest ranked players, but it sure helps.
While Bryant’s performance was overshadowed by his fumble and interception, his play wasn’t all negative. He threw for 423 yards and rushed for 20 in the loss. If it weren’t for him, Mizzou wouldn’t have even been in the game. One play that really struck me about Bryant had nothing to do with his play at quarterback.

With just seconds left in the half, Rountree III fumbled at the Cowboys’ six-yard line and the ball was snatched up by Wyoming defender Alijah Halliburton, who returned the ball for 79 yards. He would have made it to the end zone if it weren’t for Kelly Bryant, who instead of giving up on the play, sprinted down nearly the entire field to cut off Halliburton and slam him to the ground with no time remaining in the second half. The play would culminate into a questionable horse-collar penalty on Bryant, giving Wyoming a chance for a 23-yard field goal, which they made. Even though he got the penalty, it was a play that demonstrated true heart and passion combined with the will to never give up. These are traits I like to see in the person that leads my team.
Although this early season setback seems unbearable at the moment, it’s not time to give up on the Tigers yet. This team is capable of so much with all of its talent and experience. I expected Mizzou to have a historic year, possibly to win the SEC East. Albeit I’m discouraged from last Saturday’s game, my initial thoughts haven’t changed. Mizzou has a schedule lined up that sets them up for success. The remainder of their games are surely winnable; they still have a chance to run the table at the rest of their games. As the late Yogi Berra once said, “it ain’t over till it’s over.” With a tenacious senior quarterback who has seen it all and a capable squad behind him, there is no limit. Well, I guess you could say 7,215 feet of elevation is the limit. But from here, we move on. It’s on to West Virginia. 
Are you a Tigers fan? Tell us in the comments below!