Mizzou's loss is a team effort, and now Tigers must let it go
Tigers suffer a spread-the-blame-all-around loss, but what matters now is how they respond
By SEAN KEELER FS Kansas City
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- It takes a village to win an SEC crown. Try not to be its idiot.
Andrew Baggett wasn't responsible for covering Bruce Ellington on fourth-and-goal from the 15 in overtime.
Andrew Baggett didn't make the call to run Henry Josey on third-and-2 at the Missouri 33-yard line, up seven, with three minutes and change to go in regulation.
Andrew Baggett wasn't responsible for the thicket of arm-tackles that allowed South Carolina tailback Mike Davis to turn small screens into big-time headaches.
Andrew Baggett doesn't make any clock management decisions or choose when to stick with a four-man pass rush.
Andrew Baggett didn't leave the laces in.
This one was a team effort, start to finish.
Especially the finish.
"I mean, obviously, it's not the best feeling," Mizzou quarterback
Maty Mauk said after a jaw-dropping, 27-24 double-overtime defeat to South Carolina, a game that ended when Baggett's 24-yard field-goal attempt hit the left upright. "But you look at it, you can't blame it on (Baggett) at all. No blame on him."
"It shouldn't have gotten into that situation,"
Tigers defensive end Kony Ealy said. "It shouldn't have gotten to that point."
"There are other plays," coach Gary Pinkel said. "There are plays you can look back and (say we should've gotten) a first down here, a third-down completion here, that type of thing throughout the entire game. So it's not one guy here. We all could've done something different ... to help win that football game."
The pigskin caroms off the left upright, and the Ol' Ballcoach escapes.
"It was a game (where) I thought we were dead," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said.
Hurts, doesn't it?
Now flush it.
Let it go.
If sending Baggett, the Tigers' sophomore placekicker out of Lee's Summit, Mo., hate tweets or nasty emails helps you sleep at night, fine. Congratulations.
Here's a quarter. Get a life and a clue, not necessarily in that order.
Let it go.
"And I told our football team, this loss will not define them," Pinkel said. "What will define this football team is how you deal with it."
At the halfway point of the Southeastern Conference slate, the Tigers (7-1 overall, 3-1 conference) have proven they're physically tough enough to run with the big boys.
After Saturday, we're about to find out how mentally tough they are.
Because the Gamecocks were, indeed, dead. Dead to stinking rights. Carolina was down 17-0 after three quarters, on the road, in the cold. They were zombies in visors.
And then the dead started to walk. And run. And get open.
All of it spearheaded by head zombie Connor Shaw, who came off the bench -- or did he rise from the grave? -- to complete 20 of 29 second-half pass attempts for 201 yards and three scores.
"We thought we had it," defensive end Markus Golden said. "Of course, you would think you have it -- you're up 17-0 (in the) fourth quarter. You think you have it. That's just how it is. They came back and got it. I guess we should have gone harder out there."
Let it go.
"We work on (that) every day and (associate athletic director for athletic performance Pat) Ivey, it's something that he really coaches for us to get better at," Mauk said. "And that's what we're going to use this week."
Other than the inside track for a national championship, everything, mathematically, that was on the table Saturday morning will still be on the table when the sun comes up Sunday. The Tigers could've locked the SEC East crown up tight with a win over the Gamecocks. Instead, they're going to have to win and hope.
But mostly win.
"I think it comes with maturity and leadership," left tackle Justin Britt observed. "Letting (the guys) know that our goals are still there."
The mojo is still there, too, buried beneath the scars. As modern Tigers football glory goes, 2007's 12-2 Cotton Bowl winners set the bar for the Pinkel Era and beyond. This is a different animal, a defense-first, win-in-the-trenches monster throwing SEC-style punches on the SEC's old-money club.
And it's wounded.
"I mean, we're aware of it," center
Evan Boehm said when asked about 2007's place in the hearts of Mizzou fandom. "But where we ultimately want to get back to is, we don't want the team to be compared to 2007. We want other teams to be compared to 2013, and what 2013 did. And right now, we're on that pace. But we still have a lot of work to do."
And now they have a hell of a lot more.
Let it go.
"One game at a time," Ealy said, "from here on out."
Saturday is an anchor. Or a blip. It's their choice.
The Ol' Zombie Ballcoach beat you once. Tip your cap. The challenge is not to let him beat you twice. Or three times. Or more.
Because once the pain subsides, the delicious bottom line remains: How much Mizzou fans want to remember this season will depend squarely on how well these Tigers learn to forget.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com.