COLUMBIA — In Missouri's team meeting room inside the shiny new south end zone complex at Memorial Stadium, a stack of 3-by-5 cards sat on the media control table.
Black and laminated with gold lettering, they read, "TURNOVERS = VICTORY!!"
"Everyone's carrying one," head coach Barry Odom said Tuesday.
Turnovers certainly did equal victory in the Tigers' opener, they were just on the wrong side of it. Three turnovers, including two Wyoming turned into long returns and 10 points, were crucial in a 37-31 Missouri loss Saturday.
"We need to take care of the ball on offense," center Trystan Colon-Castillo said. "We need to make sure that we don't cough it up. Three turnovers, I mean, we have a thing in the offensive room, I think it's like a 90 percent chance you're going to lose if you have three turnovers."
The Tigers were nearly a 10th-percentile team, but a last-ditch comeback attempt stalled out on downs at the Wyoming 26.
Now, Missouri's attention turns to West Virginia. The Mountaineers come to Columbia for an 11 a.m. kick that, while originally scheduled for ESPN, was bumped to ESPN2 after West Virginia held on to beat FCS powerhouse James Madison and the Tigers lost to Wyoming.
"I do look at adversity providing us an opportunity for us to create our character, and who we are, how we handle this opportunity, is clearly and ultimately and absolutely up to us, and no one else," Odom said Tuesday. "I've challenged our team and our staff and everybody in our organization that, if we look at it, one game is not going to define us, but how we respond from that game will define who we are and how the season goes."
Even though he was responsible for two of those turnovers, quarterback Kelly Bryant shone in his debut. He completed 31-of-48 passes (64.5 percent) for 423 yards, all career-highs, with two touchdowns and an interception. The 423 yards surpassed Drew Lock's 398 yards against the Cowboys last season for the most passing yards from a Tiger quarterback since Derek Dooley became offensive coordinator. He also rushed 11 times for 20 yards and fumbled once.
"You can't take away two plays. You can't," Dooley said. "That's part of football. But he was exceptional in some other areas, he really was. We threw the ball for more yards than any game last year, and I don't think anybody would have thought that going into Game 1. That's a tribute to how hard he's worked. He got knocked for how he couldn't throw the ball when he got here."
Missouri's main issue on offense, after the first quarter, was its offensive line failed to generate much push against Wyoming's defense in the run game. The Tigers carried the ball 42 times for 114 yards, for a dismal 2.71 yards-per-carry average, and the two longest carries of the game were for 14 and 13 yards, the first from Larry Rountree III and the second from Tyler Badie.
"As an offensive line, you hate to say it but we didn't play hard enough," Colon-Castillo said.
"It certainly didn't meet the standard that we want," Dooley said. "I think we handed to our backs 31 times, and you know we have goals in the run game. Our goal is 4.5 yards a carry and 55 percent or more efficient, and we didn't reach either one of 'em."
Rountree had just one carry in the second half, a 5-yard run to start the third quarter which was a product not of injury, but of Missouri's offensive coaches playing the hot hand. A combination of Rountree's costly fumble in the red zone at the end of the first half, Badie's superior pass-catching ability and slightly better day on the ground got him playing time.
Badie totaled 23 touches (16 rushes, seven catches) for a combined 102 yards and a touchdown. He was the team's co-leading receiver in receptions with Johnathon Johnson, and second in targets out of the backfield with 11. Running backs coach Cornell Ford, now in his 19th season at Missouri, has long since earned the right to dictate who gets touches for the running backs.
"If one's playing better than the other at the end of the game, that's who we're going to go with," Ford said. "And I felt like, at that particular point in the game, at the end of the game, Badie was the best back. So that's what we went with."
On defense, the issue was tackling. It's a familiar problem early in the season nation-wide, as most programs stop tackling in scrimmages for the last week or two of fall camp to make sure everyone is healthy for the season. Missouri largely kept quarterback Sean Chambers and the Cowboys' wide receivers in front of them, allowing Chambers to complete just 6-of-16 passes for 92 yards and a long of 26 yards.
But on Wyoming's long touchdown runs of 75 and 61 yards, the Tigers had defenders at the line of scrimmage who could not stop the ballcarrier.
"I expect more out of myself and out of everybody else, too," senior linebacker Cale Garrett said after recording 16 tackles and 12 solo tackles in the loss. "We've got to be better and we will be better."
The defense also could have helped itself out, but was unable to force any turnovers against a fundamentally sound Wyoming offense. Missouri's defense and special teams generating zero turnovers was why Odom did not lay blame solely at the feet of the offense.
"Offense, their goal was to not turn it over, you know, zero times. And that's really hard to do," he said. "So defensively and special teams, we turn one over on offense, gosh dangit, we've got to find a way to get it back defensively, or on special teams. We've got to get it back to zero, and then (once) you get it to zero, then you get plus-1. We didn't get any on defense, we had opportunities. It's all team football, and everybody's got a job to do."
Notes: Sophomore wide receiver Dominic Gicinto (groin strain) did not make the trip to Laramie, Wyoming. Odom said he is fully cleared for participation this week. Junior tight end Albert Okwuegbunam had three catches for 72 yards, and Dooley said he was "impressed" with the number of snaps the preseason All-American played after the time Okwuegbunam missed both in the spring and in fall camp. Junior linebacker Aubrey Miller Jr. suffered a knee injury and is out "indefinitely." Sophomore Cameron Wilkins moved up to second-string behind starter Nick Bolton as a result. Sophomore defensive lineman Trajan Jeffcoat (shoulder) will have another scan this week and Odom said that while he will likely be held out for a second-straight week, there is an "outside chance" he plays.