Matter: Mistakes undermined Mizzou’s strides in Odom’s second year
COLUMBIA, MO. • As somber as he appeared all season, Missouri football coach Barry Odom walked out of Missouri’s locker room at NRG Stadium on Dec. 27 having just watched his team relapse in the Texas Bowl.
Rather than add some credibility to their seven-win regular season with a victory over Texas, the Tigers turned back the clock to September and played the kind of football that sabotaged the team’s start to the year. Costly and careless mistakes haunted Odom’s Tigers against the Longhorns — and perhaps lent credence to the popular criticism that Mizzou owed its success to a favorable schedule more than anything else.
The Tigers made undeniable progress from Odom’s first season, going from 4-8 to 7-6, and stuck together to pull out of a 1-5 start, but the team he saw in Houston looked familiar — and it wasn’t a pretty sight. The loss kept the Tigers winless, 0-6, against teams that finished the year with winning records, after which Odom wasn’t in the mood for much reflection.
“I know I like winning a lot more than losing,” he said. “The end of the year was tough on everybody. We will use some of the things that we did down the last half of the stretch to get us started getting into the next year.”
The 33-16 loss to Texas didn’t erase the Tigers’ winning streak over nonconference patsies Idaho and Connecticut and overmatched SEC foes Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas, a six-game stretch that saw Odom’s team average 51.3 points per game with an average margin of victory of 30 points. But when the season’s earlier problems resurfaced in the bowl game, it was easier to muffle enthusiasm the team generated during the second half of the regular season.
“We played really sloppy,” defensive end Marcell Frazier said after the loss. “I think we played well on defense. But you can only overcome so many turnovers.”
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While Odom’s program still faces unanswered questions for 2018 — he has to hire an offensive coordinator to work with quarterback Drew Lock … or the quarterback who succeeds Lock should he jump to the NFL — the program’s future will be shaped by how Odom fixes the problems that helped define 2017, namely the penalties and turnovers that only further shrank MU’s margin for error.
Across the SEC, only Ole Miss and Florida averaged more penalties per game than Mizzou’s 7.4, and only the Rebels averaged more penalty yards than MU’s 59.4. Those averages were the most for a Missouri team since 1994 and 2005, respectively. For the season, the Tigers were flagged 27 times for personal fouls, 22 for false starts, 22 for offsides and 16 times for holding on offense, defense and special teams. The most penalized players were both first-year starters: cornerback DeMarkus Acy (eight flags for 89 yards) and offensive guard Tre’Vour Simms (nine for 71).
After insisting the Tigers had their best practices of the season leading up to the bowl game, Odom watched his team commit penalties on five of the game’s first 22 snaps in Houston.
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Turnovers on offense and the inability to create turnovers on defense plagued Odom’s team most of the season. The Tigers ranked No. 111 nationally with 25 turnovers. Only five Power 5 teams had a worse turnover margin than Mizzou’s minus-8 — and all five had losing records and finished 35 games under .500 collectively. By no coincidence, the Tigers were 1-5 in games they gave the ball away more times than they took it away.
The turnovers undermined another prolific offense. For the second consecutive year, the Tigers moved the ball more yards per game (502.2) than any team in the SEC under since-departed coordinator Josh Heupel, but against the best opponents on the schedule, the offense only teased fans with glimpses of the attack that dominated lesser teams. Mizzou was 0-6 against FBS teams with winning records — South Carolina, Purdue, Auburn, Kentucky, Georgia and Texas — and in those games averaged 372.7 yards per game and 18 points, down from 37.5 points per game overall.
• PODCAST: Dave Matter in ‘Eye On The Tigers’
Defensively, the Tigers gradually found their footing once Odom fired coordinator DeMontie Cross and identified the right personnel for certain packages, especially on third down. A handful of playmakers emerged who should give newly promoted coordinator Ryan Walters a base to build around next fall. Despite the bowl loss, the defense showed promise, holding Texas to 3.9 yards per carry, the lowest mark by a Power 5 opponent since Odom took over the program.
That performance gave Odom a sliver of hope as one season officially turned to the next.
“We’ve got a lot of guys back on both sides of the ball,” he said. “And we’ll use this as the learning tool and motivation, just like we will the other 12 games we’ve played this year, and continue to build our program and build our team. A lot of exciting things happening.”
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
Offensive player of the year: No question here. Drew Lock set the Mizzou and SEC single-season records with 44 touchdown passes and will lead the country in that category once stats become final with Monday’s championship game. The first-team All-SEC QB wasn’t as good against MU’s best competition — against six FBS winning teams he threw just 11 TDs — but by any measure, the junior made impressive strides as a third-year starter.
Runners-up: Wideout J’Mon Moore became just the second Mizzou receiver to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, while no tight end in the country caught more TDs than Albert Okwuegbunam’s 11.
Defensive player of the year: Marcell Frazier finished the year stronger than he started but revealed in Houston that he played the season with a torn quadriceps. That didn’t stop the edge rusher from leading the SEC with 15.5 tackles for loss.
Runner-up: Terry Beckner Jr.’s seven sacks ranked second all-time among Mizzou defensive tackles.
Special teams player of the year: After a rough freshman season, Tucker McCann became one of the SEC’s most consistent kickers, making 15 of 17 field goal attempts.
Runner-up: Punter Corey Fatony’s booming leg sputtered some late, but he still gave the Tigers ideal field position most of the season.
Top offensive newcomer: Okwuegbunam was a revelation at tight end as a redshirt freshman, while running back Larry Rountree III became a valuable backfield sidekick, leading all SEC freshmen with 703 rushing yards.
Defensive newcomers: With three sacks, redshirt freshman defensive end Tre Williams emerged as a valuable edge rusher, while freshman cornerback Adam Sparks (34 tackles, two interceptions) survived some early struggles and became a solid playmaker on the perimeter.