7:00 PM ET, November 2, 2013
Faurot Field, COLUMBIA, MO
(AP) -- Missouri is still trying to recover from last weekend's 27-24 double-overtime loss to South Carolina, as the Tigers' dream season hit a major bump after Andrew Baggett missed a 24-yard field goal attempt off the left post.
But as teammates consoled each other, they realized there's still much to accomplish in No. 10 Missouri's second season in the SEC.
"The sun came up again Sunday morning," nose guard Lucas Vincent said.
Missouri (7-1, 3-1) retains a one-game lead over South Carolina in the SEC East heading into Saturday night's visit from Tennessee, but the Gamecocks own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
If South Carolina wins its remaining two conference games at home against Mississippi State and Florida, Missouri would have to win its last four to reach the conference championship game in Atlanta on Dec. 7.
Coach Gary Pinkel said his team's goals are still within reach.
"If you're a player here, why would you not be encouraged?" Pinkel asked. "You should be the most fired-up football player in America with the opportunity and options that we have in front of us. But we've got to take care of our business."
For his part, first-year Volunteers coach Butch Jones doesn't think the Tigers will be dwelling on their loss very long.
"Every game is like a new chapter in a book," he said. "It has different story lines, the way the game goes, the flavor of the game. What you did last week has no bearing on the outcome of this week."
The most difficult part of moving on will be blocking out how close the Tigers were to being one game away from clinching the division.
Facing a fourth-and-goal from the 15-yard line, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw found receiver Bruce Ellington streaking toward the corner of the end zone to tie Missouri at 24-all in the first overtime.
"You make calls all throughout the game," Pinkel said. "You hope you execute them properly. And sometimes you don't. And sometimes you wish you made another call. There's just a lot of plays. You can point to that one. We win or lose as a team."
The Tigers know how one loss can quickly turn into another and derail a season.
Three years ago, the team knocked off No. 3 Oklahoma to start 7-0 before losing two consecutive road games at Nebraska and Texas Tech.
Missouri finished with a 6-2 Big 12 record, tying the Cornhuskers but losing the head-to-head tiebreaker to advance to the conference championship game.
Vincent said that as he was walking to the weight room Sunday, offensive coordinator Josh Henson stopped him and talked to him about how the 2010 team lost to Nebraska and felt it had lost control of all of the goals for the season.
The loss stuck in the Tigers' heads, resulting in the second defeat that took them out of first place in the North Division.
Missouri hopes to avoid a repeat of that sequence when it faces Tennessee (4-4, 1-3), and it will have to relocate an offense that went dormant in the second half last Saturday.
Having entered that matchup scoring 44.3 points and gaining 513.4 yards per game, Missouri led 14-0 at halftime but only added another three points and 99 yards in regulation.
Tennessee is also dealing with issues at the quarterback position.
Justin Worley is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery on his right thumb. Jones announced the severity of Worley's injury after Tuesday's practice and said he believes Worley has a torn ligament. Jones said Worley's return "could be (in) two weeks, it could be three weeks, it could be four weeks."
Worley's injury means freshman Joshua Dobbs will make his first career start Saturday. Dobbs replaced an injured Worley in the second half of a 45-10 loss to No. 1 Alabama last week, showing flashes of potential while leading Tennessee to all of its points after entering the game in the second half.
Dobbs will face a major challenge. Missouri is tied for third in the FBS with 15 interceptions, and cornerback E.J. Gaines (three INTs) is expected to return after missing two games with a quad injury.
Missouri and Tennessee played a wild game last season, with the Tigers coming away with a 51-48 victory in four overtimes. Franklin threw four touchdown passes, all in the final minute of regulation or overtime.
Tennessee has lost 18 straight on the road against Top 25 teams and has dropped its last 10 away from home in SEC play.
Top 25 Overview
Can Missouri's players and coaching staff put the end of an undefeated season behind them? We'll find out Saturday when the Tigers, fresh off an overtime loss at home to South Carolina, hosts Tennessee. Missouri may have one loss, but it's nowhere near out of the race in the SEC East. A loss to Tennessee, which upset South Carolina only two weeks ago, would be a death knell to Missouri's title hopes.
|Avg Points Allowed||29.4||20.6|