TIGER TRACKER 1: What’s in store for the 2018 Missouri Tigers?

Barry Odom knows he has a job to do.

He knew it in the winter of 2015 – when he was hired to head the Missouri Tigers football program during one of its most pivotal times in recent history. The team’s starting quarterback had been suspended indefinitely. A collective team boycott had recently ended following campus demonstrations for better race relations that had received global media attention. And Odom’s predecessor, the man who delivered the program out of irrelevancy and once to the top of college football notoriety,  had announced that he would be walking away from it all as he continued to battle leukemia. Odom knew he had a job to do then.

He knew it 12 short months after that, when his football team bit and scratched their way to a 4-8 overall season record following a 28-24 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks on Black Friday. The taste of victory may have been sweet that day, but he -and new boss Jim Sterk – knew that the job was far from over when the season concluded at Faurot Field that chilly afternoon in 2016.

He knew it in September of 2017, after a 51-14 drubbing at Faurot at the hands of the Auburn Tigers…And when he declared that his players and staff would turn the season around during the press conference following that embarrassing loss…And when he oversaw his team win 6 of the remaining 7 games (with the benefit of a soft schedule) to improve to a 7-5 regular season record.

So, don’t tell Barry Odom about how he and his team have a job to do in 2018. Because he’s known it for quite some time now.

Although Odom may be coaching for his job to a certain extent in 2018, there seems to be a dash of optimism around this year’s edition of the Missouri football Tigers that hasn’t existed in the two previous seasons. As the voice of the Tigers Mike Kelly put it while speaking to Gabe DeArmond and Mitchell Forde on the PowerMizzou podcast Barry Odom actually likes this team – for maybe the first time since taking over as head coach.

 “I think he does like this team – and rightfully so. Not only does this team have talent, but there’s a lot of good people he’s surrounded himself (with) both in the locker room and in the coaches room.” – Mike Kelly, Tiger Radio Network

There’s no doubt that this should be one of, if not the most, talented teams that Odom will lead. East St. Louis native Terry Beckner Jr. leads a stout front four that should make opposing quarterbacks feel a little less comfortable dropping back this season. (The Tigers ranked an atrocious 106th in Passing Yards Allowed in 2017.) Walter Palmore, and highly-touted Jordan Elliott are also expected to be factors up front, creating one of the deepest d-line corps since the days of Marcus Golden, Harold Brantley and Shane Ray. Behind the defensive line, Cale Garrett, Terez Hall and Brandon Lee make up a more experienced linebacking group that should help plug up the holes.

The situation in the secondary, however, is a little more ambiguous. Adam Sparks and DeMarkus Acy are slated as the starting cornerbacks when the Tigers open the season against the UT-Martin Skyhawks on September 1. Senior Cam Hilton is listed ahead of Joshua Bledsoe for the opener, however Bledsoe did receive a fair amount of playing time last season. Missouri’s two-deep depth chart lists RS junior Khalil Oliver and sophomore Tyree Gillespie as the number one and two options for free safety, and it wouldn’t be shocking if Odom and the staff try to work the second-stringers in against UT-Martin to see who really stands out.

On the offensive side of the ball, Mizzou returns all five starters on the offensive line – who average 6′ 5″ and 325 pounds. The big boys should open up plenty of lanes for two speedy backs who are set to split reps to begin the season — Junior DaMarea Crockett rushed for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2016 before hampered by injury during most of the 2017-18 season, and sophomore Larry Rountree III rushed for over 750 yards last season as a freshman. The receiving corp looks as strong as it has in years with Emanuel Hall, Johnathon Johnston, Nate Brown and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, whose breakout season landed him on the 2018 Preseason All-SEC First Team, are named as starters.

The centerpiece of the offense, however, will certainly be senior quarterback Drew Lock. Lock’s name has been tossed around in some early Heisman Trophy chatter heading into the 2018 following what turned out to be a record-shattering 2017 campaign. Lock threw a school and conference-record 44 passing touchdowns, raked up 3,964 passing yards, and led the SEC in passing efficiency, passing yards, total offense, passing yards per game (304.9) and yards per completion (16.38 – also was the best in the country.) Lock’s decision last spring to not enter the NFL Draft and instead return to Columbia for his senior season changed the perspective on the outcome of the 2018 season – and possibly Barry Odom’s head coaching legacy.

In order for Lock to put up video game numbers once again, he’ll have to navigate his way through a seriously tough schedule. The Tigers will host UT-Martin and Wyoming to open the season, before traveling to West Lafayette, Indiana for a matchup with Purdue. After being embarrassed 35-3 by the Boilmakers at home last year, it shouldn’t take much to get this year’s team fired up for a win. And the thing is….they pretty much need to win at Purdue on September 15, because Mizzou will face a buzzsaw of games in the following weeks playing National Runner-Up Georgia at home, at South Carolina and at Alabama, home of the defending National Champions. If Missouri came come away 1-2 or better in those matchups, the chance of a special season will live on. If they find themselves 0-3, they will have to regroup at the Homecoming game vs Memphis to try to bring excitement back to the fanbase.

Will we learn much about this football team after a matchup with the UT-Martin Skyhawks? Most likely not. Unless of course they lose that game at Faurot Field, in which case I will begin writing my retrospective on Barry Odom’s career that evening. But it will be interesting to see what Odom and new Offensive Coordinator Derek Dooley have in store, how much time will the first stringers see, and who makes the big plays on Saturday. Check back on The Maus Haus as I preview the upcoming Mizzou Football games every Friday this year on The Tiger Tracker!

unis

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