Coaches point fingers at themselves

Saturday, November 13, 2004

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel says the coaching staff emphasizes playing well in the fourth quarter. But something isn't working.

Pinkel, speaking during the Big 12 coaches' teleconference this week, said coaches are taking the blame for the second-half collapses that have proven so costly for Missouri (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) this season.

"I never blame players for anything," Pinkel said. "We always look at ourselves. We don't point fingers."

Still, he expects the Tigers to execute the plays, part of the problem in a four-game losing streak that dropped Missouri from the brink of the Top 25 to also-ran, a streak capped by a 35-24 loss to Kansas State Saturday.

"You have to finish," Pinkel said. "We always place an emphasis on the fourth quarter; we do that daily in practice. Obviously it's not working as well."

Missouri has been outscored 69-9 in the second half of the five losses, including 52-9 in the fourth quarter. Needing wins in their final two games to become bowl-eligible, the Tigers realize they must correct their late-game difficulties immediately.

Still, they find the problem puzzling.

"I just don't know what happens in the second half," wide receiver Sean Coffey said. "Whatever it is, we've got to get it together quick."

Pinkel said execution has been the Tigers' biggest problem.

"You can analyze it all you want," he said. "You've got to do the right things on offense. You've got to do the right things on defense. You've got to do the right things with the kicking game."

None of the above worked in the second half against Kansas State. The offense managed 169 yards and three points over the final 30 minutes after tallying 308 yards and 21 points in the first half.

Kicker Joe Tantarelli's 32-yard field goal attempt early in the third quarter clanged off the right upright, keeping the Missouri lead at 14 and sparking a Wildcat comeback. The Tigers, still the Big 12's best defense in terms of yards allowed, could not record an important stop or takeaway in the second half to stem Kansas State's momentum.

Wide receiver Thomson Omboga said he could see the loss coming in the eyes of his teammates -- even when the Tigers were still ahead in the third quarter. Quarterback Brad Smith didn't go quite that far.

"Definitely you could feel it," he said. "I don't think I saw it in the guys, but when you're at a point like this and it's happened before, it's natural for guys to do that. It's up to the leaders to get everybody in the right mind-set."

After a porous defense overshadowed a potent Missouri offense the past few seasons, Pinkel said it is frustrating to see this more talented Tiger team struggle so mightily late in games.

"We had leads last year and we kept them," Pinkel said. "Last year, we were mentally tough. This year, we're not."

Missouri can still turn things around somewhat, but has no margin for error. After a bye this weekend, wins against rival Kansas and at Iowa State to close the regular season could still earn the Tigers a bowl bid.

"Obviously, (losing) takes its toll," Pinkel said. "We're in kind of uncharted territory, but we expect to keep going."

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