Mizzou’s ‘non-win’ does nothing to ease concerns

September 3, 2017 GMT

COLUMBIA, Mo. • It felt like a loss.

Or, if you will, a non-win.

I don’t care that Mizzou won Saturday’s football game, 72-43.

What mattered was the first half, when the dear old varsity had a chance to prove that, unlike last season, it can indeed play D. And against a FCS school — and not just any FCS school, but one that was 5-17 in the past two seasons — Mizzou’s defense played like (NOTE TO EDITOR: Please insert the most-insulting word here that’s allowed to be published in the newspaper).

“The first half,” defensive end Jordan Harold said, “that wasn’t us.”

Maybe so, but right now, that’s all we have to go off. And at halftime, the Missouri State Bears had 35 points and 380 offensive yards.

It was unacceptable.

It would’ve been unacceptable to allow those first-half totals to essentially any opponent, let alone Missouri State. A defense like that can’t win five more games.

Now, time sometimes fades the intensity of anger. A day later, you might make justifications, like “It was probably just first-game jitters” or “Maybe it wasn’t as bad as the numbers say” or “Hey, they only allowed eight points in the second half” or “With an offense that good, Mizzou doesn’t need its defense to be great, just simply good.”

No! No! No! No! It was all horrible. Abhorrent. In the next week, Barry Odom will have to do some of the best coaching of his life, or else next Saturday really will be a loss, with South Carolina coming to town.

“All those fingers point right directly at me,” said head coach Odom, who is Mizzou’s play-caller and true coordinator on defense, regardless of what DeMontie Cross’ business card says. “We didn’t play worth a darn in the first half. I thought we tackled poorly, our intensity wasn’t pretty good and it starts with me. …

“Just the tackling early on. What we showed at fall camp, I thought we would’ve had a little better carryover into Game 1, and obviously we didn’t. And on third downs, some of the man stuff we had called against route combinations, we had a couple young guys make an error twice. And that’s on us to get that fixed.”

The headline for my Saturday column on stltoday.com read: “No one’s sure who will emerge on Mizzou’s defense.”

And … no one did.

Conversely, cornerback DeMarkus Acy made five conspicuous misplays or missed tackles. And Anthony Hines, bless his heart, seemed to defy physics with an open-field tackle attempt that somehow completely missed the body of the ball carrier. And perhaps the costliest play came from safety Cam Hilton, who was ejected for targeting the head of an opponent and, thus, won’t play in the first half against South Carolina.

“If you’re anywhere close to his head, that’s it,” Odom said.“That’s Day 1, elementary football.”

Odom was in a good mood after the game. They won, after all, even if it took a basketball score to do so. The coach was honest about his defense – “I didn’t do a very good job Week 1. The offense bailed me out.” But I think a lot of folks, myself included, thought Mizzou would be able to battle South Carolina next weekend. I think a lot of folks thought Mizzou would win seven games this year.

All predictions look murky now.

What gives you optimism that Mizzou’s D can play better next weekend against a way-better opponent?

“We’ll just take a different approach,” defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. said. “Football is football, and at the end of the day, the game is about adjustments. … It’s going to be a fight, we’ve got to come out swinging, and they’re going to swing back.”

But that’s the thing. Mizzou’s defense, we thought, had a chip on its shoulder pads after last season. We thought we’d see swinging — and a knockout — against Missouri State.


I was curious what quarterback Drew Lock felt about all this. Looks like Lock has really developed. The junior threw some Sunday-type passes on Saturday. Does he use his positional status and leadership status to share his thoughts about the defense’s play (as in — the offense can’t do this alone, guys)?

“It’s a line you have to tread (lightly) — I think they’re going to hear enough from their coaches and they’re beating themselves up today, regardless,” said Lock, who threw seven touchdowns Saturday, in part because Odom couldn’t risk taking him out, in case the defense blew it. “If I go up and say something, I’m going to be an encouraging guy.”

During the worst of the first half, some fans chirped Saturday that Mizzou should fire Cross. It would be a statement, sure, but it wouldn’t be an effective move. And if they truly were going to remove the coach responsible for Saturday’s defense, it would be to remove the defense’s overlord. And that won’t happen to the head coach. Odom was chipper after the game, but he probably wasn’t when he watched the game film later that night.

His legacy is based on whether the 2017 Tigers can win six and make a bowl. And even though they’re 1-0, the 2017 Tigers appear worse than they did when they were 0-0.