How to fix the mess that is Mizzou football right now
Before the 2017 season, many Missouri fans were thinking that a bowl game was in the team’s future.
Even second-year coach Barry Odom said in December that anything less than a bowl berth would be seen as a disappointment.
Therefore, it’s fair to call the Tigers’ 1-3 start exactly that — a disappointment. Now Odom is ranting about how he has a rebuilding job in front of him, even though he’s the one who started most of the preseason hype around his team.
Following three consecutive home losses to South Carolina, Purdue and Auburn — none of which was particularly competitive — the bye came at exactly the right time for the Tigers.
Facing a tough SEC East road game at Kentucky this weekend, there might not be many more chances to turn around the 2017 campaign. However, though it will be a monumental task, there are a few ways Odom and his coaching staff can get the Tigers back on track.
Here are a few things Mizzou can do to save this year from becoming a(nother) lost season:
1. Slow down the offense a bit
Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel’s insanely fast offense is great when it’s working, but so far in 2017, it’s been a dud against FBS opponents.
I’m not going to advocate for a plodding offense that huddles after every play, but Heupel and the offense are running the defense ragged before halftime with their ineffective three-and-out drives that force the defenders to remain on the field for 45 minutes a game.
The Tigers have plenty of talent on offense, so there should be no need for such a gimmicky plan that has QB Drew Lock snapping the ball with 30 seconds left on the play clock.
Against a Kentucky team that’s not exactly known for its offensive firepower, the Tigers need to take their time and make sure Lock and the offense have the right play called. That will help execution and give the defenders a little more time to rest on the sidelines.
2. Get the ball to Johnathon Johnson
After Johnson, a dynamic receiver and returner, put up 116 yards and two touchdowns on only five catches vs. Missouri State, he didn’t have a single reception against South Carolina. Then, he only had three in a loss to Purdue.
He did a little better against Auburn, making 10 catches for 85 yards and showing signs of life once again, but if the Tigers are going to beat Kentucky, they need to feed the ball to the redshirt sophomore some more.
Johnson is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses and, now that WR Dimetrios Mason has been dismissed from the team, there should be more touches to go around.
3. Get back to basics defensively
Odom, who took over defensive play-calling from former defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross midway through last season, has admitted that he was trying to do too much with some of his calls.
Simplifying the strategy will be crucial for a team that has struggled to find an identity on that side of the ball.
With more base defenses and less complicated coverages and blitzes, the Tigers will have a better chance of at least limiting Kentucky (and future opponents). If the offense can hold up its end of the bargain, Mizzou should at least be competitive in future games.
4. Cut down on special teams mistakes
The Tigers have been plagued by missed kicks, muffed punt returns and other special teams mishaps this year.
Mistakes are going to happen, but special teams errors are particularly brutal because they usually occur when a team is going to gain position or when a team thinks it is about to score points.
They can turn games, too. That’s exactly what happened when South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel returned a kickoff 97 yards for a score, triggering a 21-0 run that erased Mizzou’s 10-0 lead.
By simply shoring up that area of the game, the Tigers can go a long way toward not hampering their chances to win. And, to go back to an earlier point, perhaps putting Johnson on kickoff and punt returns would be a good first step.
5. Tackle with better form
It would be depressing to count all the times a Mizzou player has slammed into an opponent only to watch that opponent bounce harmlessly away and run for a long gain.
Actually using your arms to wrap up an opposing player during a tackle is a lost concept for Odom’s defense.
Hopefully, as part of the bye week, the Tigers went back to the drawing board and relearned some basic tackling form. At the very least, the Mizzou defense needs to slow down opposing players so teammates can come finish off the play.
Tackling has been the Tigers’ biggest weak spot so far this season, and if it doesn’t improve, Odom and Mizzou are staring a potential 2-10 season in the face.