A Season of Dreams Rolls On
The Tigers couldn't run up the score against these hated rivals like they did against their others, and their defense even allowed for a few moments of late-game semi-suspense, but make no mistake about Mizzou's 36-28 victory over No. 2 Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium: as close a contest as the final score portrayed, this one was hardly in doubt. Play it 10 times, Mizzou wins nine of them.
Now, I don't presume to be the No. 1 expert on Missouri football – there are plenty of you out there with years and years of experience following the Tigers. But early this year I got a feeling about this team, and the Tigers haven't done a thing all year to dispel my hunch, short of a few costly mistakes in Norman, Okla.
This team has been really good for some time now. I'm talking national-championship good. This, of course, wasn't the case at the beginning of the year when the Tigers barely escaped Illinois, but it's been uncanny the way this team has improved every week. This is a tribute to the skill of the coaches and the unrelenting discipline of the players.
I'm not going to write a typical play-by-play story here. Let's face it, I watched the game, you watched the game and 434 postal workers in South Dakota watched it too. Even my parents watched it, and they're casual sports fans who live in Maryland and have spent all of three days in Missouri. It was surreal to see how far and wide the pre-game hype extended, strange to see the Tigers on this kind of national stage. Every decent-sized newspaper from coast-to-coast featured the game and the rivalry. Those in Big 12 country treated it like a Final Four basketball game.
And what a sweet feeling that was for long-tortured MU fans – I'd imagine it's like watching your brilliant-yet-inconsistent child grow up, move out of the house become a national star.
Pinkel said last week there was so much negativism in the state when he arrived, people were holding 20-year-old grudges against the program and the school. But everyone loves a winner, especially a home-state winner, and I'm guessing there will be large batches of Mizzou apparel going to press first thing Monday morning.
I'd be remiss not to talk about Chase Daniel, who resembled a surgeon once again, completing 40 of 49 passes and three touchdowns. But there's really not a lot more for me to say about him at this point. The same goes for Gary Pinkel, who afterward called Daniel ‘special' for the 4,983rd time this season. But it's true, obviously.
About month ago I posted on the message board here that Daniel had no shot at winning the Heisman Trophy. Dead wrong. At the time, of course, I had no clue so many top teams would go down, and I may have underestimated the enormous national platform Nov. 24 would provide Daniel's burgeoning campaign. You couldn't ask for better timing, and it's just another example of how storybook this season has been.
"This guy is special. We've seen this for a year and a half, and tonight America got to see how special he is," Pinkel said, before looking at Daniel's stat line on the box score and shaking his head in obvious amazement.
Daniel is not the only one to benefit from playing in what was something of a nationally televised infomercial. How about Danario Alexander? All throughout fall camp, he was the guy everyone was talking about. His wrist injury cost him a chunk of the season, and then he came back to find Jeremy Maclin sleeping in his bed, so to speak. But with his prized package of size, speed and athleticism, there's no doubt he put himself onto a lot of NFL Draft radars last night.
"I got more opportunities to get the ball tonight. Chase got the ball to me more and I was able to get open for the passes," Alexander said. "It was great."
Another underclassmen in whom I see star quality is Stryker Sulak. The junior defensive end has become a pass-rushing terror and has mastered the art of the strip move. Sulak could be scary-good if he adds another 15 pounds and maintains his speed. And the great news is, it would be a shocker if either player leaves for the pros after this season.
And Tony Temple (98 yards) ran like the Temple from the Sun Bowl last year – fast, powerful, elusive. It's easy to be happy for Temple, who early this season looked like he could become the forgotten man. As explosive as Daniel and the passing game are, when Daniel's going full-tilt in addition, holding Missouri below 40 is a real accomplishment.
"It was unbelievable, I saw that look in his eyes and now, if I don't see that look before games I am going to smack him upside his head. He needs to make sure he gets it, because when he is on there is not a better running back in the country," Daniel said.
Any finally, there was William Moore, who picked off Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing at the Mizzou two-yard line in what turned out to be a huge play. In the pre-season, Pinkel halfheartedly endorsed Moore as his starting strong safety, implying he'd need to work harder and become more consistent in order to hold onto his job.
Well, these days Moore not only is holding onto his job, but he's also looking like a first-team all-conference lock and a potential first-day NFL pick.
He seemingly gets an interception every week lately. It may sound crazy, but he could be as valuable as this team to anybody, especially with Pig Brown out for the season. Let's face it: The Tigers' secondary is not their strength; without Moore, it would probably be the only thing standing between them and a legitimate chance at the national title.
Moore's ascent is a perfect thumbnail sketch for Mizzou's emergence; everyone knew they had the talent, but no one was quite sure if they could put everything together and keep it together for a whole season.
Barely a month ago MU was ranked 15th in the nation. A lot of things have needed to go right in order for them to reach this point – namely, a big 12 title game win away from playing for a national title.
And that, as Pinkel would say, is something special.
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