By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
After a disastrous five quarters of football — 75 minutes that plummeted the defending national champion Pittsburg State Gorillas from No. 1 in the nation to No. 22 and seriously jeopardized their playoff chances — head coach Time Beck says his team is getting what it needs this week: a trip to Kirksville, Mo.
“This is exactly what we need,” Beck said on Thursday. “ It’s unfortunate what happened last week in front of an awesome crowd and a great day, but this is exactly what we need. We need to go five hours away to a place where there’s not going to be a lot of people. We’re going to find out what kind of character we have.”
The Gorillas — 5-2 overall and in the MIAA after two straight losses — face the Truman State Bulldogs (4-4, 3-4) today at 1 p.m.
After losing a fourth-quarter lead to Northwest Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 13 and then imploding after an early 7-0 lead in an historic 63-14 home loss to Missouri Western last week, the Gorillas have a lot to prove.
“There’s big motivation to go out there and do better,” Pittsburg State junior offensive tackle Cody Holland said. “With what’s happened the last two weeks, we want to go out there and show everyone we can be physical and play Gorilla football.”
At this point, the playoffs look like a long shot for the Gorillas, perennial postseason contenders. Pitt State isn’t even in the top 10 of the regional rankings, of which the top six move on to the playoffs.
But Beck, while still preaching his one-game-at-a-time approach, said the Gorillas can’t discount any playoff possibilities.
He pointed out the 2005 season — when the Gorillas suffered a shocking 83-21 loss to Central Missouri before winning two road playoff games and advancing to the national quarterfinals — as an example.
“At the time I remember looking at everything and everybody was saying ‘Well, you’re not going to get into the playoffs,’ ” Beck said. “It doesn’t matter if you get beat by one or 100 … then we end up going to the third round of the playoffs.
“You look at last year and our conference got four teams in. But we can’t worry about that. All we can worry about is getting prepared for Truman and going up and playing a good game.”
Truman State has played the Gorillas well recently. The Bulldogs snapped a long losing streak to Pitt State in 2009 and nearly upset the Gorillas last season.
TSU scored with 53 seconds remaining to take a 26-20 lead before senior quarterback Zac Dickey led a 65-yard touchdown drive in the final seconds for a 27-26 win.
“They’ve caused us some problems with their defense and all those guys are seniors now,” Beck said. “They’ve got a bunch of guys who have been with them for a few years.”
The Gorillas will likely attack that TSU defense with more of a rushing presence than they have had most of the season. Pitt State is averaging 163 rushing yards per game, not enough to balance things out and open up the field for strong-armed quarterback Anthony Abenoja.
“Offensively we’ve got to get something going in the run game and maybe a little earlier in the game,” Beck said.
The Bulldogs have lost four of five since opening the season 3-0. Three of their losses have come to ranked teams and today’s contest will be their third straight against a member of the Top 25.
“We have to do a good job stopping the run,” Pitt State junior defensive end Joe Uzzel said. “They’re a good football team. If we play like we did Saturday, we’ll probably lose.”