Media day report: Nov. 16

After a week off, Missouri returned for its weekly meeting with the media Monday afternoon. Coach Gary Pinkel and his players discussed the effects of the bye week and the remarkable fact that Missouri still has a legitimate shot to win the Big 12 North.

Time to focus: After losing their fourth consecutive game Nov. 6, the Tigers were left with two long weeks to prepare for Kansas. That break presented two opportunities: sit and sulk about the loss or try to improve as much as possible during the extra time.

From the sound of things, coach Gary Pinkel and the players went with the latter.

"I think it was good for us to have a few days off for our players," Pinkel said. "It's been a tough month and we also got to work on a lot of things."

The players received Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of last week off before returning to work this past Thursday. The extra time allowed the coaching staff to focus on the underlying principles of the game that often get lost in the preparation shuffle.

"Two of our practices, we doubled all our fundamental work on everything that we do," Pinkel said. "Obviously, you always work to correct mistakes throughout every game, but a lot of times you're restricted (from putting) a significant number of minutes into it because you've got to prepare for the next opponent."

That work, Pinkel said, included more focus on the kicking game and the fourth quarter.

"We've put a lot of time into (the kicking game), but obviously not enough," Pinkel said. "We also had more emphasis on the fourth quarter. That's what we're doing, trying to become better as a football team."

As for the focus on the fourth, in which the Tigers have been outscored by 43 points in their five losses, Pinkel said it is difficult to ascertain if improvement has been made.

"There's no magic here," he said. "You can't automatically just go, ‘Zap; you're good in the fourth quarter.' We certainly try to emphasize things we need improvement on. We will always do that and we've always done that since we've been here. Last week probably allowed us a little more time to emphasize things we need to work on."

Depth movement: Only one notable difference: the tailback two-deep has changed, with junior Damien Nash and freshman Marcus Woods designated with an "OR" separating them, meaning either could start against the Jayhawks.

It appears any lingering frustration about Nash's suspension last month has dissipated.

"He's working really hard," Pinkel said. "He's got a great work ethic. I expect that out of him and I didn't expect anything less. He's been working very hard to this day to become a good football player and to help us win. That didn't surprise me at all."

Freshman Tony Temple continues to be in the picture, if his ankle will be healthy enough to play, which Pinkel was unsure about Monday.

"I don't know yet, but hopefully," he said. "He's just trying to work himself back in physically right now."

Freshman specialist Adam Crossett also officially took over the punting job Monday. He had trailed sophomore Matt Hoenes on the depth before the Kansas State game but handled the duties anyways.

Hope springs eternal in North: With two weeks left in the regular season, four teams are still alive in the running for the Big 12 North title. Iowa State controls its own destiny, but Missouri has a decent shot, too; the Tigers will need to win out and Colorado to beat Nebraska next week.

Most expected the North to be a crapshoot this year, but not to this extent.

"Honestly, it's pretty remarkable," Pinkel said. "It's just one of those years that things are shaking out like they are. It's a crazy year in our division."

Nash echoed the sentiment.

"It's crazy," he said. "Having the record that we have, even our opponents, the record they have in the Big 12 North, is just crazy. It's just...not knowing what to say about the Big 12 North, if they're competitive, or just that bad. You don't know."

That brings up an interesting point. If Missouri had not failed to hold on to leads against Oklahoma State and Kansas State, the division could easily have turned the Tigers' way.

"I just know that it's all messed up in the records, the standings are all screwed up," Nash said. "The big part of it is, you should be out there winning, show that we can beat Kansas next week. That's the next step."

Keeping loose: After slipping to 4-5, everything -- a bowl game, national respect, personal satisfaction -- comes down to the next two games. That is a lot of pressure to place on a team, but Pinkel said it should be expected.

"There's a lot of pressure," he said. "We can sit there and act like, ‘Well, there's none, no big deal.' But there is; that's part of the deal. That's part of being a competitor."

Recognizing that, Pinkel said, compels him and the rest of the coaches to treat the players a little more gently.

"Certainly, I think we're very positive," he said. "We've had great practices, great enthusiasm. I couldn't be more pleased with our football team in their attitude, because it's been tough for them and my staff…

"We understand what we're into and you've gotta work through it. We created this whole problem for ourselves."

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