With Nebraska looming, Missouri looks to avoid big-win hangover
It's easy for teams to talk about refocusing after historic win; much less easy to do
Beating Oklahoma was great, but winning the North means beating Nebraska
Rutgers didn't learn in 2006; South Carolina didn't learn this year; will Mizzou?
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri players seemed to understand Saturday night that their celebration couldn't last long.
"We've just got to wipe the slate clean," quarterback Blaine Gabbert said about an hour after the Tigers upended Oklahoma.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel seemed to deliver the proper message, balancing happiness for the win with the realization that this week's matchup with Nebraska has higher stakes because it could decide the Big 12 North title.
"I told the players, 'Enjoy tonight.' It's a short night," Pinkel said. "Then we go tomorrow. That's our challenge. Once you watch Nebraska film, it doesn't take much to figure that out."
What the Tigers will find out Saturday in Lincoln is that it's easy to talk about refocusing after a historic victory. It's not so easy to do. Sometimes, the hangover lasts longer than players and coaches expect.
Consider the case of South Carolina.
On Oct. 10, the Gamecocks beat then-No. 1 Alabama. South Carolina had never beaten a top-ranked team before. The Gamecocks' Columbia throbbed in celebration, just as the Tigers' Columbia did last week. After the game, South Carolina players talked about wiping the slate clean for Kentucky. The following Monday, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier addressed the hangover directly.
"We all try to learn from history," Spurrier said. "History tells us teams that have a big win don't do well the next time."
South Carolina didn't learn. Kentucky won, 31-28.
Rutgers didn't learn in 2006. Eleven days after knocking off No. 3 Louisville on national TV, the Scarlet Knights -- who had risen to No. 7 in the AP poll -- got hammered by Cincinnati.
Missouri has its own famous hangover game. In 2007, the Tigers beat rival Kansas in the regular season's final week to win the Big 12 North title and climb to No. 1 in the BCS rankings. The only thing standing between the Tigers and the BCS title game was an Oklahoma team that had beaten them once already. The Sooners pulled away in the third quarter and rolled to a 38-17 win in the Big 12 title game.
Some of Missouri's older players were on the sidelines for that game. Beating Oklahoma last week helped erase some of the lingering pain. "It really meant a lot to go ahead and knock down that door and beat them," center Tim Barnes said last Saturday. "Having them be No. 1 in the BCS, that's just something else that's real special." Still, Barnes understands the Tigers must also use some of the lessons they learned from that loss as they prepare for Nebraska. No matter how big the victory, it doesn't mean as much if the hangover keeps a team from the bigger prize. "We'll enjoy it," Barnes said, "but they're just going to keep getting bigger."
Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith found his own hangover remedy Sunday morning. Pain. Smith, who missed a month after breaking his leg, came back for the Oklahoma game. It took a toll.
"My celebration ended Saturday night," Smith said Monday. "I woke up the next morning really sore and wasn't in the celebration mood anymore. I was in the get treatment mood. So my celebration was over. I hadn't played football in five weeks, so you get sore after that."
But did all of the Tigers wake up Sunday similarly focused? Nebraska had its hiccup against Texas, so Missouri can probably forget about the Cornhuskers coming out flat. It'll be up to Smith and the defense and Gabbert and the offense to shake off the big-win hangover and flat-out beat Nebraska the way they flat-out beat Oklahoma.
"There is still definitely a lot of football to go," Smith said. "I think we're halfway in the season, and it's time to step it up a little bit more. A lot of teams get overconfident when they get ranked and once they beat a couple of teams. But we're still hungry, and we know we still have a long way to go to reach our goals."