For three quarters last Thursday, the Missouri Tigers sloshed their way to a 12-0 lead against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, playing poorly but holding the Nebraska offense at bay.
But out of nowhere, Bo Pelini, Zac Lee, and the Huskers seized the game, and the Big 12 North division, by the throat. Scoring 27 unanswered points and silencing a drenched and depressed crowd in mid-Missouri.
So where does Missouri move on past this? With NU in the drivers seat moving forward, Mizzou will have to hope for a miracle to win the Big 12 North again. Nebraska should be favored in the rest of their games outside of their pending showdown against Oklahoma in early November.
But that doesn't meant the season is lost for Missouri. Their road game against Oklahoma State this Saturday is definitely winnable, and other than their Homecoming game against Texas, should also be favored, or at least a contender, in the remainder of their match ups.
Here are a few steps and developments the Tigers will have to make to have any hope at recapturing the Big 12 North and earning national relevance by the end of this college football season.
-Play four quarters: Other than their game against Illinois, Missouri really hasn't put forth a full effort. They looked good at times against Bowling Green and Nevada, and obviously against Nebraska for three quarters. If this young team can gel and mature to the point of playing a complete game, look out.
-Protect Gabbert: Okay, this one comes with a bit of an asterisk. There are respectable NFL linemen that couldn't cover Ndamukong Suh. I knew the guy was a beast, but he was an absolute, one-man, monster in Columbia. If I see another single guy that talented this year, I'll be surprised (especially since Dez Bryant was suspended).
That being said, he lived in Mizzou's backfield and tweaked quarterback Blaine Gabbert's ankle. Who knows what that game is like if Blaine is healthy. Probably the same, but we'll never know. Missouri needs to protect their young gunslinger for the offense to have success the rest of this season.
-Life at running back: Not sure if Derrick Washington is the problem, but he's not doing anything as the starting running back. Then again, neither are any of his backups, or Gabbert. Missouri needs to have a well-rounded offense, especially without the star power of years past.
-Avoid blown coverages: This pretty much applies for all the teams in college football. For the first four games and three quarters of Missouri's season, their secondary looked pretty good. However, two of the three late touchdowns that Zac Lee gave up were blown coverages where his target was relatively wide open.
The Tigers have to prove that they are capable of covering opposing players for the remainder of the year. Again, Mizzou isn't going to put up 50+ on people every week right now, so they'll have to have a solid defense.
-Start fast: The Tigers haven't scored a touchdown on their opening drive once this season, a far cry from where they were just last season, when scoring on every drive seemed to be the expectation.
With a young team, it would serve the Tigers well to get up early and often in order to build confidence and have a flexible game plan for the later part of the game.
Depending on if you're an optimist or realist, Mizzou can win anywhere from 7-11 games over the rest of the season. If they start knocking items off this list and begin perfecting their flaws as a young team with much potential, they'll inch closer towards a double-digit win total, the standard for a successful year at a big time program.