Odom finds glimmers of hope in Mizzou’s latest loss
COLUMBIA, MO. • Barry Odom doesn’t run marathons, but Missouri’s football coach brought up the topic to his team Sunday, after the Tigers had absorbed Saturday’s 40-34 loss at Kentucky. which mixed encouraging signs and more self-inflicted mistakes.
As the Tigers (1-4, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) follow their best performance of the season with their stiffest test, Odom wants them focused on the road ahead.
“I’m not a marathon runner, but I’ve studied it enough and I’ve run a little bit in my time,” he said Monday, taking a break from game-planning meetings for Saturday’s game at No. 4 Georgia (6-0, 3-0), the frontrunner in the SEC East Division. “There’s a high percentage of people that sign up to run a marathon that never finish it. … Once you hit mile marker 20, human nature tells you it’s really, really hard. A lot of people drop out. They realize they’ve done a lot of work to that point. They can see the finish line but now you’ve got to go get there.”
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In his marathon metaphor, the Tigers are midway through their race, perhaps tempted to call it quits.
“Nobody said it was going to be easy,” Odom said. “You’ve got to strain. When you think you’ve done as much as you can you’ve got to do more. That’s who we are and where we’re at. We’ll keep on finishing. There’s a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. We’re going to keep working and progressing to get there.”
Mizzou’s climb back to respectability might have started in Lexington, Ky., though the Tigers have little to show for playing the Wildcats close. The potent offense finally appeared, paced by a dynamic ground game and balanced with Drew Lock’s lethal right arm. Odom’s defense showed some pluck in the red zone, holding Kentucky to field goals on three of five visits. But other breakdowns spoiled the breakthroughs. Lock and running back Damarea Crockett lost fumbles. Missed tackles led to two long Kentucky touchdowns. Untimely penalties doomed possessions. Long-snapping mistakes sabotaged two field goal tries.
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For the first time all season, the Tigers played with energy and passion against a credible opponent, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the habitual mistakes.
Odom’s team was barely competitive in home losses to South Carolina, Purdue and Auburn — the visitors outscored Mizzou 117-30 — but Saturday’s loss hurt more, he said.
“And that’s probably a good thing,” he said. “It’s another sign for me that we’re making some progress and eventually we’re going to break down the wall and be back in the winner’s circle. I know our guys after our meetings (Sunday) night, they understand more what it takes to really be invested and completely held accountable for everything we’re doing.”
“I think we grew up just a little bit as a football program,” he added.
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Perhaps, but the Tigers still find time for costly penalties. Left guard Kevin Pendleton was flagged for a personal foul that stalled momentum in the second quarter. Defensive linemen jumped offsides three times. Cornerback DeMarkus Acy was ejected in the first quarter for targeting on a helmet-to-helmet collision with Kentucky receiver Lynn Bowden. Two days later Odom still wrestled with the call that cost the secondary a starter.
“I love the rule,” he said. “I think it’s all good for any level of football, the safety component. The hardest thing to teach is knowing the target zone for the defender on where to approach. … (Bowden) was getting ready to brace for contact. The offensive guy lowered his body position. DeMarkus had already went into the action of making the tackle. When you first look at it and slow it down, DeMarkus’ eyes were down but right before contact they came back up and he led with the front of his facemask. Split-second decision.”
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Odom believes Mizzou defenders have missed some tackles this year because they’re aiming too low while trying to avoid penalties for targeting.
“You want to tell them to face (ball-carriers) up,” Odom said, “but you’ve got to be careful to stay away from the head and neck area.”
As for the final seconds of Saturday’s game, Odom took the high road when asked about the SEC’s admission the officiating crew missed UK linebacker Josh Allen knock the ball away from Mizzou receiver J’Mon Moore after the game’s penultimate play. Had the officials seen it happen, they would have stopped the clock and left the Tigers with 16 seconds instead of three, the league announced Sunday.
That came as little consolation to Odom.
“You hate to hear (the league’s admission),” he said. “I appreciate their transparency and getting back to what happened. … I saw it with my own eyes. But I wanted to make sure what I saw on the field was what I saw. And it was.”