As the Missouri Tigers seized control over its pivotal game inside Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium Saturday night, ESPN color analyst Kirk Herbstreit made the proclamation that the 2014 season is “Gary Pinkel’s best coaching job at Mizzou.”
And after a tumultuous series of onside kick attempts, penalties and confusion, Mizzou (9-2, 6-1 SEC) left the field with a 29-21 vicotry over the favored Tennessee Volunteers; a victory that has the Tigers one win away from repeating as SEC East Champions.
” Bottom line, I’m proud of our football team, I love em, they are remarkably competitive , they really care about each other. We had guys on both sides come up and make plays when we needed plays.” Pinkel said following the game.
So how did we arrive at this point? After all, we are only two months removed from watching this very Mizzou team lose at home…to Indiana. National media, opposing fans and Mizzou supporters alike seemed to write the Tigers off after that baffling defeat.
“You have to adjust a little bit. We’ve adjusted, and we’re knocking on the door.” Pinkel proclaimed recently.
Pinkel (who is the all-time winningest head coach in program history) and this Mizzou coaching staff have certainly had to make many adjustments as this football season has unfolded, starting with a less-than-stellar off-season which inlcluded the dismissal of the teams’ best offensive weapon, Dorial Green-Beckham. The passing game has obviously suffered a great deal, as quarterback Maty Mauk has struggled to find rhythm with receivers all season.
When it has mattered most, however, the offense has risen to the occasion, putting up roughly 900 yards in the past two road games. Mauk himself has thrown for nearly 500 yards the past two weeks including three important touchdown passes. This team has also won with defense all season long. “Old man football,” as former defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson would call it.
Earning respect in the SEC has been a slow process for Mizzou, but a 13-2 conference record over the past two seasons is matched only by Alabama, and 10 straight road wins (including 8 in conference) is something to take notice of. A second straight trip to Atlanta would be immeasurable for this program’s perception and visibility. At 9-2 with six SEC wins already in the hip pocket, coach Pinkel has orchestrated a masterpiece of a season despite having a team with obvious flaws. If the Tigers are able to beat the red-hot Arkansas Razorbacks on Friday, Pinkel should win the “SEC Coach of the Year” award with a bullet. Getting to the SEC Championship game two years in a row, after three seasons of playing in the conference would be remarkable, especially considering there are still four programs in the SEC who have yet to make the early-December trip to Atlanta.
“I want to accomplish a lot more here.” Pinkel said during Missouri’s bye week. “I don’t intend to fail.”