Road-weary Tigers return home for centennial celebration

Winless away from Faurot Field, Missouri football hopes a celebratory Columbia atmosphere will kick-start its season.

On last year’s Homecoming, Missouri played host to both ESPN’s “College GameDay” for the first time in school history and to a nationally televised primetime matchup between its No. 11 Tigers and the No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners. The Tigers pulled off the upset, celebrated at midfield with a crowd that would soon carry the goal posts out of the stadium and created one of the nation’s premier images of the 2010 college football season.

This season’s Homecoming football game doesn’t exhibit quite the flash. The unranked Tigers will play the unranked Iowa State Cyclones Saturday at Faurot Field. The game isn’t in primetime; in fact, it will not even air on TV.

But it is the centennial Homecoming game, a historic marker for the nesting grounds of a tradition started at Missouri in 1911 and honored at colleges all across the nation today. And when it’s Homecoming at Faurot, that’s all the flash some may ever need.

“I’m sure the intensity and the emotion from the crowd will really do a good job helping us,” senior safety and captain Kenji Jackson said. “I know it helps me play when the crowd is really into it. It’s fun to play in those (types) of atmospheres.”

The Tigers could use an energy boost. At a disappointing 2-3, the team hasn’t won a game since its last appearance at Faurot Field, a 69-0 victory over Western Illinois on Sept. 17. Rather, it’s fallen to three teams currently ranked in the Top 25 – No. 18 Arizona State, No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 17 Kansas State — all on the road, all in the form of fourth quarter comeback attempts that weren’t meant to be.

“These guys are hurt,” senior tight end Michael Egnew said after Saturday’s 24-17 loss to Kansas State. “It always hurts when you lose to tough competitors.”

The Tigers hope the return home will improve their fortunes. Iowa State enters the contest at 3-2, hungry to reach just its second bowl game in six years.

Aware that it can’t take an opponent for granted in its own desperate plight for a win, Missouri has spent the week searching for its strengths rather than dwelling on the unchangeable.

“There’s not magic out there," coach Gary Pinkel said. "I don’t wake up and (think), ‘Boy, I hope things work out, I hope we win.' That doesn’t work. You win because you prepared well, you play well and you’re coached well.”

Such preparation paid off in years past against Iowa State, which hasn’t beaten Missouri since 2006. Last year’s 14-0 loss to the Tigers ended the Cyclones’ season, leaving them one win shy of bowl eligibility.

This season, the Tigers hope to generate more points on an Iowa State defense that has allowed 33 points per game this season. To reach their offensive goals, the Tigers will have to find better ways to capitalize on offensive production by scoring early and converting on field goal and third down attempts, all struggles that have plagued the Tigers through their first five games.

In Pinkel's words, magic can’t cure the Tigers. Lessons learned from the disappointment, however, might.

“We can’t forget this is a game we love, and it’s going to bring some hard times,” Jackson said. “But it’s ultimately going to make us better players, better coaches, and we’re going to learn from the mistakes we’ve made and do better.”

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