For Tiger fans who made the trip out West to Laramie for Missouri’s season opening game on Saturday at Wyoming, it may have felt a bit like a dream when the mountains along I-80 beyond Cheyenne opened up and revealed a dramatic view of the Laramie Valley. Laramie is something of a hidden treasure, a great college town with cool mountain breezes even in late August, a fun downtown and campus area, and plenty of passion for their team. Cheers of “Go Pokes” filled the air before the game, and signs reading “The world needs more Cowboys” were spotted all over town.
Unfortunately for the strong contingent of Tiger fans who made the unique trip, the game itself felt surreal as well. Missouri had a dream start, forcing punts and scoring touchdowns to go up 14-0. But it turned into a nightmare as the sun sunk lower toward the Snowy Range to the west and lit up the Laramie Range to the east with a golden hue, with Wyoming unleashing a furious 34-3 scoring run during the middle of the game on the way to a 37-31 win, giving Missouri a season-opening loss.
The second quarter was quite possibly the worst in Barry Odom’s four seasons coaching Missouri, a sea of Missouri fumbles and long touchdown runs by the Cowboys.
Wyoming’s lead swelled to 34-17 in the third quarter before Missouri began a frantic rally. The Tigers got within six and drove into Wyoming territory, but quarterback Kelly Bryant’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete, and Wyoming fans rushed the field in celebration.
It was a brutal start for Missouri, immediately chipping away at some of the offseason’s excitement. The Tigers outgained Wyoming 537 yards to 389, but Missouri had three turnovers against none by the Cowboys, and all three hurt the Tigers pretty badly.
Missouri struggled to run the ball against the Cowboys, an ominous sign. Bryant overall played pretty well, sidestepping pressure and making some good throws, although he did have a bad interception in the end zone and couldn’t quite finish off the comeback attempt.
On the positive side, Arkansas transfer Jonathan Nance caught two touchdown passes and hinted at big things this year.
But the positives took a backseat to the damage of the loss, one of the most surprising Missouri has had in terms of points spread expectations. Missouri was a 17-point favorite, and since 2000 the Tigers had never lost a game when they were favored by that much.
Now Missouri comes home to face West Virginia (11 a.m. on ESPN2). The Mountaineers (1-0) began the season with a tight 20-13 win over James Madison. They are expected to finish near the bottom of the Big 12, but new coach Neal Brown seems to be a good one and could have them playing well.
Missouri has the advantages of playing at home, probably having a little better roster, and facing a team in just its second game under a new coach. The Tigers should get a win here, and they certainly could use it.