The 2018 season has been a wild one for the Missouri Tigers, ending with an 8-4 record but a lot of “what if” questions.
Losses to Alabama and Georgia were expected, but a couple of big wins and a couple of devastating losses caught fans, players and coaches by surprise. There was a lot to be happy about, though: Senior QB Drew Lock, senior WR Emanuel Hall, a dynamic rushing attack, a veteran (and dominant) offensive line, and a defense that improved greatly during the season.
There were also plenty of head-scratching decisions and plays from coach Barry Odom’s squad, but overall, most fans would have gladly taken 8-4 before the season.
As the Tigers prepare for a bowl game, let’s take a look back at 10 moments, players and decisions we’ll remember from Mizzou’s 2018 regular season:
10. Corey Fatony
Punters don’t get a lot of love, so here’s where I’ll give Fatony some before his last game in a Mizzou uniform. Every year, Fatony’s number of punts has decreased, which says a lot about the Tigers’ offense.
However, he remains just as effective, and often pins opponents inside their 20-yard line. He averaged 43.8 yards per punt as a sophomore, increasing that to 44.3 yards in 2017 and 44.0 yards in 2018.
Mizzou will hope he doesn’t see the field too much during its bowl game (except as a holder, where he also excels), but seeing him launch one or two more punts would be a nice way to send him on to the NFL.
9. Carolina Rain
Mizzou led 23-14 at halftime at South Carolina in Week 5, but then the heavens opened and rain came pouring down at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Tigers collapsed while the Gamecocks were energized by the monsoon.
Before the Tigers could catch their breath, the Gamecocks scored 17 unanswered points to take a 31-23 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Tigers retook the lead, but a 33-yard field goal as time expired clinched a 37-35 victory for the Gamecocks.
It was the first devastating loss for the Tigers in 2018, but it wouldn’t be the last (see below).
8. Emanuel Hall’s injury
Hall was basically a decoy in the Georgia game because of a groin injury, then he missed games against South Carolina, Alabama, Memphis and Kentucky. Since the Tigers went 7-0 with Hall and 1-4 without him, it’s fair to wonder what would have happened if Hall had stayed healthy all season.
Still, in only seven games, Hall put up 756 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. He’s Lock’s favorite target and when he’s right, he’s the best deep threat in the country.
Plays like this one against Arkansas show off the best of both Lock and Hall. Lock draws the Razorback defense offsides, which pretty much guarantees he’s taking a deep shot to Hall. He splits a pair of defenders with a beautiful throw and Hall does the rest, making a nifty move and showing off his speed en route to the end zone:
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) November 23, 2018
Though the Tigers have plenty of offensive talent returning next year, Hall will definitely be missed.
7. Derek Dooley
It was a head-scratching decision when the Tigers chose to hire Derek Dooley away from the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. Dooley had been the NFL team’s receivers coach since being fired by Tennessee, and had never called plays in his career.
There were some rough moments — the South Carolina and Kentucky games being prime examples — but there was also plenty of good. The win over Vanderbilt stands out as one of Dooley’s best games, as the Tigers ran for 253 yards and passed for 253 yards in the well-balanced performance.
The Tigers have done what they needed to do to help the defense, keeping the ball for longer and making it easier to keep opponents off the scoreboard. Dooley deserves a lot of credit for that.
6. Barry Odom’s ticket purchase
Barry Odom offered to buy tickets to the Arkansas game for any Mizzou fans that wanted them, and the gesture worked — more than 5,000 tickets were placed through Odom’s promotion.
Though it was cold and rainy during Friday’s game, the Tigers had a decent-sized crowd, and a lot of that had to do with Odom’s kindness. Per STLToday.com, Odom’s bill totaled more than $130,000:
Mizzou’s ticket office opened the phone lines and took orders under the Odom special, offering free general admission seats priced at $25 through Tuesday at 5 p.m. The numbers are in: MU took orders for 5,537 tickets, athletics department spokesman Nick Joos said on Wednesday.
That adds up to $138,425 on the head coach’s tab.
The Tigers still have a long way to go to consistently draw the kinds of crowds Odom wants, but he proved he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get fans in the seats.
5. Terry Beckner Jr.
It’s only fitting that No. 5 gets the No. 5 spot on this list. After battling through torn ACLs each of his first two years in the program, Beckner has had incredible 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Beckner isn’t often mentioned in the first rounds of many 2019 NFL Mock Drafts, but if he impresses at the NFL Combine in February, he’ll be a guy to keep an eye on during Day 1 of the draft.
Beckner is the latest in Mizzou’s long line of talented defensive linemen, and it’ll be interesting to see where he plays on Sundays next year.
4. The romp in The Swamp
For the second year in a row, the Tigers absolutely blew out the Florida Gators. This time, it was extra sweet, as the Gators talked smack about Faurot Field this offseason, then Mizzou blew them out in Gainesville.
Coming off a week in which the Tigers absolutely collapsed at home against Kentucky (see below), it was incredible to see how completely they dominated the Gators.
It also provided this much-needed moment for Odom, who had been taking a lot of heat (including from me) after the Kentucky loss:
Watch: There were lots of hugs and celebration as #Mizzou football coach Barry Odom got his first win over a ranked opponent. You can even hear a 'Barry Odom' chant from the fans.
— Andrew Kauffman (@AndrewABC17) November 4, 2018
3. Derek Dooley’s revenge
Dooley’s tenure as Tennessee’s head coach didn’t go well, as he put up a 15-21 record (including an abysmal 4-19 SEC mark) in most of three seasons at the helm of the program.
Therefore, even though he didn’t say it, a big 50-17 victory on Nov. 17 at Neyland Stadium meant a lot to him. He’s had success in his first year at the helm of the Mizzou offense (as described earlier), and it’ll be interesting to see how he handles life without Lock next year.
2. The Untimed Down
Mizzou has been on the wrong end of a number of devastating defeats — The Fifth Down (vs. Colorado in 1990) and The Flea Kicker (vs. Nebraska in 1997) among the most painful.
However, this year’s loss to Kentucky will join those as an all-time gut-wrenching loss. A questionable pass interference penalty and a flat-out terrible second-half offensive performance for Mizzou led to the Wildcats winning 15-14 on an untimed down after time expired in the fourth quarter.
That collapse is the difference between a 9-3 regular season record (and an earlier collapse against South Carolina also looms large). The Tigers rebounded nicely, winning four straight to close out the regular season, but the Kentucky loss remains painful.
1. Drew Lock
The Mizzou offense was more balanced this year than in 2017, with Dooley replacing Josh Heupel (who took the UCF head-coaching gig) as coordinator. That meant fewer throws for Lock, but he still put up a huge year.
Lock didn’t have to return as a senior, but he did. Now he’s not only one of the greatest quarterbacks in Mizzou history, but one of the best in SEC history as well. He is behind only Aaron Murray in all-time SEC passing yards (11,820) and behind only Murray and Danny Wuerffel in all-time SEC passing touchdowns (96).
This moment at the end of Friday’s game against Arkansas was a great one, and well-deserved for the Mizzou star:
Drew Lock leaves the field at home, one final time. pic.twitter.com/07jTx66Bwx
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 23, 2018
The Kansas City native is a true son, and will be remembered for a long time. Tigers fans will hope he goes out strong in a bowl. Then, Mizzou fans will follow him wherever he ends up next year in the NFL.