COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- Blaine Gabbert is coming off one of his best games, even if he occasionally threw to the wrong guy. That's a good sign for Missouri heading into the finale of what has been a most disappointing home schedule.
Gabbert threw three touchdown passes to Danario Alexander, his best in Big 12 play, in a 38-12 victory at Kansas State last week. He didn't see a wide-open Jared Perry on one of them, forcing Alexander to beat double coverage, and the sophomore knew when he walked off the field he'd made a big play off an inaccurate read.
"He said 'Perry was wide open, wasn't he?"' offensive coordinator Dave Yost said. "I said 'Yep.' It's happening less and less. When we're sitting there next year going through video, you'll have a point of reference."
Missouri (6-4, 2-4 Big 12) has lost three in a row at home entering Saturday's game against Iowa State (6-5, 3-4), costing the Tigers a shot at a third straight North title and leaving them angling for bowl position on senior day. They collapsed in the second half in two of the losses, to Nebraska and Baylor, but played a complete game while pulling away at Kansas State.
Coach Gary Pinkel constantly reminded players in practice this week that they've yet to play two straight quality games. He's leaned on all the motivational tricks in the book to inspire a team rebuilding after the departure of several stars, and joked he's got 6,000 books on the subject.
"I've got it all, it's all there, and you kind of choose the best things," Pinkel said. "You keep persevering. Every year presents different issues and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."
Players don't need reminders, aware of the opportunities they've let slip away.
"You kind of sense the urgency," senior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "This week is really big."
Both Missouri and Iowa State became bowl eligible last week, the Tigers for the fifth straight year and the Cyclones for the first time since 2005 under new head Paul Rhoads after holding off Colorado 17-10.
Iowa State is one of the most improved teams in the country after going 2-10 last season, and has been especially stout on defense. For the first time since 1965, the Cyclones have held three conference opponents to 10 or fewer points.
"Now we've put the program a little bit more on the national map," Rhoads said. "It helps people's perception of you, it begins to build tradition, and hopefully all the things we can follow up with."
Colorado had three trips inside the Iowa State 10 last week and totaled three points. The Cyclones also forced three turnovers in the second half and despite allowing 390 total yards held the Buffaloes to 2 for 14 on third down.
"We don't intimidate or scare anybody," Rhoads said. "But we've done a great job of keeping points off the board."
Iowa State has a dual threat in quarterback Austen Arnaud, who has passed for 1,550 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for 479 yards and seven touchdowns. He's gotten top-notch protection from a line that has allowed 11 sacks, second-best in the conference.
Although the program is down a bit, Missouri has some individual standout seasons from Alexander and defensive end Aldon Smith, a redshirt freshman.
Smith needs one sack to tie the school's season record of 11. Alexander has had consecutive 200-yard games, totaling 414 yards and four scores, and is closing in on school single-season records for yards receiving, receptions and touchdowns set by Jeremy Maclin last season.
Alexander is among the top wide receivers in the country and has been Big 12 player of the week twice his senior season, overcoming injuries that dogged his first three seasons.
"He's an impact player," Pinkel said. "He's not a one-man band, but certainly it's been nice for him and for me to see him be successful."
Perry, the Tigers' second-leading receiver, will miss at least the last two regular-season games with a hairline fracture in his right leg. The school is hopeful Perry could return in time for a bowl game.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)