Missouri ready to say bye to long break
No. 4 Cornhuskers offer big challenge.

By DAVE MATTER of the Tribuneís staff

Story ran on Tuesday, September 25 2001

The last time the Missouri football team had more than two weeks between successive games, the Tigers were headed to Tucson, Ariz., for the 1998 Insight.com Bowl.

Thatís not exactly the case this week as the Tigers await Saturdayís date with No. 4 Nebraska after a three-week layoff since Sept. 8.

MUís Sept. 15 meeting with Michigan State was moved to Dec. 1, and last Saturday was a scheduled bye week. The unexpected layoff was an unprecedented break for all MU players and coaches.

"It has been a while, it really has," sophomore center A.J. Ricker said. "Itís going to be different. Weíve had a little time off, and itís given us a chance to get back to the basics. Weíve been working a lot on running our offense, so itís been pretty nice."

The Tigers (1-1) will play only Big 12 Conference foes the next eight weeks after opening with a pair of non-league opponents.

First-year coach Gary Pinkel admitted the scenario is unusual, but not enough to consider Saturdayís game a second season opener.

"This is a little bit different," he said. "But I donít see it as that. Hopefully, itíll be a lot better than our first opener. We just try to turn it into a positive situation as best we can. For some teams, maybe this will be a plus, for others it might be a negative. At the end of the season weíll analyze it to see how it affected Missouri."

The Tigers approached the rare retreat as they would most normal game weeks. They had physical practices at the beginning of the week and a game-simulated practice on both Saturdays.

Pinkel said he has seen a clear improvement in his teamís fundamentals and intensity. Plus, the extra week gave more time to prepare for the Cornhuskers (4-0), who have not lost to Missouri in their last 22 meetings.

"Waiting like this, itís the same in all sports right now," junior outside safety Tauras Ferguson said. "Everyoneís so competitive, you just want to get back on the field. We had some time to get away, so our legs are fresh, but the coaching staff kept us in game-week situations. So I donít think weíve ever come out of the game-week mindset."

When prodded to talk about the drawbacks of such a long break, Pinkel stuck to his mantra yesterday, saying he wonít let the back-to-back byes become an excuse should Nebraska make it 23 straight victories.

"I refuse to go there," he said. "Thereís no way in the world we come out of this game, if we donít play well, and say itís because we didnít play for three weeks. Itíll probably be because we didnít play at the level we should play. That will never come up. We try to turn this into a positive, get better as a team, and thatís the approach weíre going to take."

For his players, theyíre just anxious to return to Faurot Field and face someone other than their teammates - even if it is a national-title contender that is favored by 23 points.

"I canít wait to get back out there," senior linebacker Jamonte Robinson said, "and thereís no better to team to get back out there against than Nebraska."

Reach Dave Matter at (573) 815-1788 or dmatter@tribmail.com.