ATLANTA — The Missouri Tigers weren’t messing around when they came to SEC Media Days in Atlanta.
They’ve heard all the criticism — they don’t belong in the SEC, they didn’t beat a winning team last year, their fans aren’t passionate, and everything else that has been said the past couple of seasons.
With a team that features senior leaders on both sides of the ball — QB Drew Lock, DL Terry Beckner Jr. and LB Terez Hall were the three representatives at Media Days — the Tigers are eager to prove themselves when the 2018 season kicks off.
Early in the Mizzou media availability, Lock said it’s frustrating to hear people try to delegitimize the Tigers’ six-game winning streak to close the 2017 regular season. He said every good thing the Tigers do, someone has something negative to say about it:
— Aaron Reiss (@aaronjreiss) July 18, 2018
“Whenever we play well, it’s because the other team didn’t play well,” the quote from Lock reads. “It’s not because the Missouri Tigers are a good football team. When someone catches a pass, it’s because they were wide open. It wasn’t because we made a good play on the ball or it was a good throw. When Damarea (Crockett) busts a 30-yard run, or Larry (Rountree III) busts a 50-yard run, it’s not because they’re good running backs. It’s because the gaps fit wrong and the O-line got lucky.
“I think that’s the chip we have on our shoulder. People talk about our comebacks and the teams we played weren’t as good as other SEC teams. Well, they had better records than us. They were technically — in the media’s eyes, in others in college football’s eyes, in rankings’ eyes — better football teams than us. And we beat them.”
Later in the day, Lock faced a similar question from a Florida writer and struck the same tone when asked about how much Florida’s defense struggled in 2017.
“We scored a lot of points on a lot of defenses,” he said. “We had a good amount of touchdowns in the first half against Georgia, and that was a great defense. We ended up not finishing that game very well, but again, it’s just crazy to me (to think) that maybe we weren’t just a good football team.”
“They were struggling big time,” the reporter continued.
“Oh, I know,” Lock said. “But we were a good football team that year, too.”
Mizzou will have a chance to prove itself early in the SEC season. After starting the 2018 campaign with three-straight non-conference games, the Tigers face Georgia before a bye week, then travel to South Carolina and Alabama in a brutal stretch of games.
But it’s not just the Mizzou schedule that takes a beating. On Tuesday, Florida DE Cece Jefferson said he hated playing at Faurot Field last year, bashing Tiger fans:
I asked Florida defensive lineman Cece Jefferson what he remembered about #Mizzou last year that made them so tough to defend (Missouri won 45-16).
Bashing their fans wasn’t quite the kind of answer I was expecting, but wow. pic.twitter.com/mRJviphkOk
— Bennett Durando (@BennettDurando) July 17, 2018
Lock and Hall jumped to their fans’ defense, questioning what Jefferson was expecting when the Tigers had the ball on offense.
“Bottom line is that, he talked about it being quiet, and I just wondered… he plays defense, I play offense, and we were at home,” Lock said. “I haven’t been to very many home games where the crowd is yelling when the offense is on the field. That was my take on that.”
Though Jefferson won’t be playing at Faurot Field again, Hall potentially gave other teams insight on how to get in the Florida defender’s head.
“That’s how it should be,” he said. “If we can do that every time Cece Jefferson comes here, make sure it’s super quiet so he can hear his thoughts and stuff, that’s our advantage over him. That’s how it’s supposed to be when the offense is on the field — they’re trying to snap the ball. So Mizzou fans, y’all listening out there, hey, be quiet when Cece Jefferson is on the field.”
Coach Barry Odom had a more measured response to hearing Jefferson’s comments for the first time, but even he made sure to mention the final score of the game.
“And that was last year’s game?” Odom asked for clarification. “Every year is going to be different. I think the score was 45-16. I thought our fanbase was pretty good that day, supporting the winning team.”
He added that he enjoys the way Mizzou fans support the team and hopes to give them another winning product to watch this year.
“I have great pride in representing our state, our fans,” he said. “I’m thankful for them. I don’t know exactly what that comment means, but we’ll focus on Mizzou and trying to get as good as we can get. Heading into Week 1, we’ll focus on Week 1, then we’ll focus on Week 2 and when it gets to be Florida week, we’ll get ready for that one.”
The Tigers have a few question marks they need to answer before the start of the 2018 season, but they’re tired of the criticism surrounding their program. They’ll have a huge chip on their shoulder this fall, and that could translate to an improvement on last year’s 7-6 record.
If nothing else, the Florida-Mizzou game just became a little spicier.