Tigers try to remain positive after loss

Monday, September 12, 2005

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- For the second straight season, Missouri has an early season nonconference blemish on its record. Unlike last season, players are determined not to let it ruin everything.

The Tigers couldn't keep up with New Mexico's offense in a 45-35 shootout loss Saturday night, a game that exposed glaring weaknesses in run and pass defense along with a puny pass rush and even punier punting. Reminiscent of the second half of last year's season-tipping loss at Troy in the second game, that one coming against a Missouri team ranked 19th, coach Gary Pinkel again spoke often of taking the blame for the fix his team is in.

"There were a lot of mistakes, too many mistakes," Pinkel said. "Effort was there, we just made a lot of mistakes, and I'm responsible for that."

Missouri plays Troy at home next week, hoping to stop a skid before it happens. Players said the attitude was positive in the locker room after the Tigers surrendered 17 fourth-quarter points against New Mexico.

"We're just trying to get things back on track," tight end Martin Rucker said. "We're not doing that again. Everybody's pulling together and that was the attitude. It was not here we go again, it was here we go."

Last year's loss at Troy marked Missouri, which had been coming off an Independence Bowl appearance, as a team that had not yet arrived. New Mexico, which got 209 yards receiving and three touchdowns from Hank Baskett, did it again.

Missouri (1-1) had 490 yards in total offense behind another big game from Brad Smith, who rushed for 165 yards on a career-best 29 carries and passed for 248 more while going 32-for-55. Smith set school career records for rushing and passing yards, eclipsing marks set by Zack Abron and Jeff Handy.

The 29 rushing attempts is a career high for Smith, who had a pair of dazzling touchdown runs of 31 and 15 yards and several others where he fooled defenders. Smith ran for three touchdowns and passed for a fourth, and with 80 career touchdowns passed Matt Leinart of Southern California for the lead among active players.

"There were numerous times when we thought we had him and boom, he just shook you off and made a play," New Mexico cornerback Gabriel Fulbright said. "That's one of the best quarterbacks I've ever played against.

"Truthfully, he's one of the best."

But at times, it seemed that Smith was the only thing the Tigers had going for them.

"That's what Brad is good at, he's good at making things happen," running back Marcus Woods said. "They were stopping the tailbacks, but we kept blocking for him."

Stuck in do-it-all mode, Smith also threw two interceptions -- both by Fulbright -- and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. The second interception led to New Mexico's go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.

"They played mistake-free and we had some very costly errors," Pinkel said. "We just made a lot of mistakes on both sides of the football."

Pinkel believes Smith should have had one fewer turnover. He was ruled to have fumbled while trying to evade the rush and Evroy Thompson returned the ball 28 yards for a touchdown that put New Mexico ahead 21-14 in the third quarter. Pinkel thought Smith had thrown the ball.

"I was stunned," Pinkel said. "I thought they were going to call intentional grounding and nobody blew a whistle. That was a huge momentum play for them."

It was another case of Smith trying to single-handedly keep Missouri in the game because the defense gave up 4.8 yards per carry and had zero success rushing the passer.

"We just didn't get enough pressure and that was on the front four," defensive end Xzavie Jackson said. "It would have helped if we could have gotten more pressure on the quarterback, then we could have gotten takeaways or sacks."

Instead, New Mexico had no turnovers. And Missouri is 1-1.

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