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The most disappointing Mizzou loss I can remember in recent years was actually on the basketball court, in the dreaded Norfolk State game. I never believed the Tiger would lose that game until after Phil Pressey actually missed the shot. I still wasn’t sure what I just witnessed even after the final whistle had blown.
This wasn’t like that. This was different. There was shock, sure, but the pain felt different. Missouri’s loss against Norfolk State left me with sadness. That team had proven so much, and still felt like it had so much more to play for. Missouri’s loss on Saturday against Kansas State left me with anger. Because this team has proven nothing, and it felt like this was their chance to do exactly that.
Missouri was an underdog on Saturday, and for good reason. Kansas State finished last season with an 8-5 record, but that included close losses to Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas. Chris Klieman has proven himself to be an excellent coach, and the Wildcats have a clear identity as a ground-and-pound offense. They also have a defense that wins with four pass rushers at front and the ability to keep everything in front of them when they drop eight in coverage.
Winning was always going to be a tall task, but that wasn’t really the expectation. The expectation was to be competitive. Missouri failed to reach such a standard. Boy, howdy, did they fail.
Missouri lost in a non-conference game by 28 points for the first time since Barry Odom’s Tigers lost at home against Purdue, 35-3, in 2017. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 2001 when Missouri lost by 48 points at Michigan State in Gary Pinkel’s first year on campus.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. This was supposed to be the year in which Missouri showed tangible signs of progress, and Saturday was anything but. Missouri was outplayed, out-coached and outclassed. And it all happened despite the Tigers’ clear advantage when it comes to the talent they’ve accumulated on the roster.
Mizzou’s had disappointing losses in recent years. They got destroyed at Mississippi State in 2020. They found a way to lose a heartbreaker in overtime at Boston College last season. There was the 35-28 loss last season in Lexington against Kentucky. Oh, and there was that embarrassment at home last year when Tennessee came in and beat the hell out of Mizzou, 62-24.
Maybe you’ll call these excuses, but I call them explanations. And I can explain each of those losses. Missouri had less than 60 scholarship players available for the game against Mississippi State due to COVID, transfers and injuries. By that point, the team just wanted to get through the schedule. Giving up 51 points with that secondary against that scheme almost felt inevitable. The Boston College and Kentucky losses, while disappointing, were your typical college football losses. Missouri showed heart, had every opportunity to win, but came up short against two teams that did the thing Missouri’s defense simply could not stop; run the ball. Boston College ran it to the tune of 275 yards on 49 carries. Kentucky carried the ball 52 times for more than 340 yards. They couldn’t stop it, and we all knew it. They simply didn’t have the talent or the scheme to get the job done. That was frustrating, but it wasn’t surprising. Tennessee kicking their butts the way they did surprised me, but that’s always a possibility when you’re out-manned against a Josh Heupel offense. We’ve seen that in reverse.
This was different. Klieman was hired at Kansas State in 2019. He inherited a team which finished the previous season 5-7. His recruiting classes have ranked 58th, 49th, 60th and 50th, respectively. He’s pulled in a total of one blue chip recruit since his arrival at K-State. His team is now on the cusp of being ranked among the top 25 and is considered a dark-horse contender in the Big 12. That’s a sign of strong talent identification, development and an ability to put players in a position to succeed. I can’t say the same of Missouri, and that came to the forefront on Saturday.
It would seem two-thirds of those who voted in the recent Reacts poll would agree with me, that the K-state loss was the most disappointing of the Drinkwitz era.
Maybe that’s what this is all about. Missouri’s loss at Kansas State brought about more questions than it answered, and it was supposed to do the opposite. Have Missouri’s recruiting classes been overrated? If so, what else can we point to as signs of progress? If not, what does it say about this staff’s ability to develop talent?
Missouri’s losses against Mississippi State, Boston College, Kentucky and Tennessee didn’t make me question whether or not the program was heading in the right direction. The loss against Kansas State, did. If that doesn’t make it the most disappointing loss of the Drinkwitz era, I don’t know what does.