Tiger Tracker: What does 2019 have in store for Mizzou? Maybe a lot….

On this day Monday, August the 26th, 2019 the rain and thunder fell like 1,000 hammers atop Greater Saint Louis. By midday though, the storm had quieted, the clouds departed, and for the slightest of moments the crisp smell of fall filled the air for the first time this year. It’s only fitting that today would also be the day that Starbucks unleashed their Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew (get ready all you basic b’s) – as if I needed any more proof to say this: Football is back.

Now, sure, technically speaking Week 0 of the college football season is already behind us. But this weekend will mark the first full slate of college football matchups, and I couldn’t be any more excited. There will be plenty of fun and games to follow in the months ahead in the world on major college football, but this season promises to be the most interesting in at least a handful of years for my Missouri Tigers. The 2019 season has the potential to be the most successful in Barry Odom’s short career as Head Coach. It could be a season held up as a shining star to bolster recruiting across the state and the region. Or, at least for fans, it could be the season that was for not. One stashed away and forgotten like some rotted tennis shoes in the back of your closet. It could be the year that could have been for Missouri fans, depending on what a handful of people in Indianapolis have to say.

The sanctions

It’s the elephant in the room. The NCAA Committee on Infractions levied Missouri with sanctions – including a postseason ban –  after it had found that Mizzou committed academic misconduct once a tutor revealed that she had completed coursework for 12 student athletes, including former members of the football team. Missouri has appealed the NCAA’s decision and submitted its case before the Committee on Infractions, but as it stands at this very moment, they will not be eligible for the postseason. That means no bowl game. No SEC Championship game. And, even if this were that special year where it may happen, no College Football Playoff for the Tigers. There is basically no precedence for a scenario like this, so the NCAA could take weeks or even months before it makes its final decision on Missouri’s sanctions. (At the time of writing, it had been approximately four weeks since Missouri attended its official Appeals Committee hearing in Indianapolis.)

The schedule

That’s all to say that it’s….kind of a bummer that Mizzou got placed in this situation this year. That may sound obvious, but when you look at the schedule for the Tigers in 2019, it shakes out in Mizzou’s favor to compete in Atlanta for the SEC title for the first time since 2014. Barry Odom has increased his win total every year since taking reigns from Gary Pinkel following the 2015 season. This is a feat that Missouri fans tend to easily forget. (I certainly do.) But in 2019, Barry and the Boys have a chance to really do some damage.

Mizzou kicks off 2019 in Laramie against a Wyoming team that returns a defense which was in the top third of NCAA Division-I teams in 2018, but are no world beaters by any means. Mizzou is a consensus 17-point favorite, and should be able to take care of business in the mountains. In the weeks following, Mizzou will face a West Virginia team that has lost the bulk of its starters from 2018 and rolls out a first year head coach, FCS opponent SEMO, and a South Carolina team that isn’t a push-around by any means, but isn’t as talented as previous editions. (Also – in 2019 South Carolina will play Alabama, Mizzou, Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M and Clemson…..can you say ‘yikes’?) A bye week will proceed another FCS opponent in Troy, followed by an Ole Miss team that has been rather disappointing under Head Coach Matt Luke, and then road dates with Vanderbilt and Kentucky before a second bye week.

If Missouri stays focussed, finishes drives, takes care of the ball and can create just a little bit of havoc on defense, it isn’t crazy to think that they may be 7-1 or even 8-0 heading into November 9th, when they will head down on the plains to face SEC East favorite Georgia for what may be the defining matchup of the season. No doubt it will be a compelling couple of months for Mizzou fans, but the optimism is clouded by the possibility of having nothing to play for if the postseason ban and other sanctions stand.

The reality

While the NCAA ponders its decision, in just a few short days we will be playing some football games that count. Regardless of what the latest word on Missouri’s sanctions are, it won’t matter at approximately 6:30 on Saturday night. It might sound cliche, but it does appear that Coach Odom and his staff have encouraged their players to block out the noise in the mass media and focus on the task in front of them. Last spring, numerous Missouri upperclassmen, including Clemson graduate transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant, had the opportunity to transfer out of the program and to a school which would have something to play for in 2019. Zero of them did so.

Much to Coach Odom’s credit, it would seem that this group has bought in to his message and are determined to make the most of the 12 games which they are guaranteed to compete in. Barring a complete disaster this year, Odom’s job security seems more certain than ever. Like his players, it will be up to him to execute against Wyoming and each opponent in the following weeks.

Predictions for 2019

While I don’t have a crystal ball to tell you what the NCAA will rule and when, I do feel strongly that this team will have success moving the ball. For all of the nerds like me, Mizzou is projected to have a top-15 offense in terms of overall efficiency. They return 3 starters on the offensive line including 1st Team All SEC member Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms. At running back, Larry Roundtree III has proven that he can carry the ball 25 times a game and still be effective, while Tyler Badie slides in as a nice change of pace back. The receiving corp looks to be strong on paper with Arkansas graduate transfer Jonathan Nance, who once led the Razorbacks in receiving; Jonathan Johnston who is reliable in the slot; a trio of sophomores all looking to receive decent playing time in Kam Scott, Jalen Knox and Dominic Gicinto; and a monster tight end Albert Okwuegbunam who, when healthy, looks like he has all the talent to be playing on Sundays in the near future. Then of course Kelly Bryant will serve as the engine that drives the car for the Mizzou offense. Bryant was 16-2 as a starter at Clemson, completing 66% of his passes before ultimately losing the starting job to sophomore phenom Trevor Lawrence. At Missouri, he hopes to find his targets much of the same way as a passer first, however, Bryant can also get outside of the pocket and run for yards when he needs to.

Things are a bit more uncertain on defense, where last year the Tigers ranked 25th in overall efficiency yet struggled to establish a consistent pass rush almost throughout the entire campaign. Odom’s staff has made some adjustments to combat this, however. Missouri will roll out a 4-2-5 base defense this year to try to better stop opponents’ passing attack. Missouri’s cornerbacks looked helpless in coverage at times last year, however when there is no pressure on the opponent’s quarterback the DBs simply can’t cover long enough. If this is meant to be one of those special seasons, these groups will have to hold strong either by committee or for one or two players to emerge as game changers.

Final thoughts for Saturday: I hope to see Kelly Bryant and the offense get their feet wet with a couple of successful drives, with minimal negative yards and no turnovers to prevent Wyoming from really getting into the game. I also expect to see at least six different wide receivers/tight ends in rotation at Wyoming so that Coach Odom, Coach Dooley and the rest of the staff can see what they got on offense. And finally, as stated earlier, I hope to see somebody on defense create some pressure and record a sack or two to get this group’s confidence up early to begin the season.

Buckle up, college football fans. It should be another fun ride in 2019.

M-I-Z

ICE COLD TAKES: Blues Go Marching in to Round 2 with an Uncharted Confidence

Friends – it’s been far too long since we’ve all gotten together. I hope to not make this a trend, but instead get the ball rolling on a promise I made long ago. My hope for this new segment that I’m calling Freezing Cold Takes is to continue to bring the #HotTakes that you’ve grown accustomed to about sandwiches and extend them into the realm of sports. (St. Louis sports to be specific).

Thank you as always for your continued support. Stay tuned for more sports opinion and sandwich reviews coming soon!

Blues and Stars Align Once Again

Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs begins tonight, and the Blues will host the Dallas Stars in Game 1 at Enterprise Center following the conclusion of Game 1 between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins in an Eastern Conference showdown.

This will be the 14th meeting of the Blues and Stars franchises in the playoffs since the two were created in the 1967 NHL Expansion. One interesting note, the past three times the Blues have reached the Conference Final round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blues had defeated the Stars at some point in the postseason. Most recently, the Blues eliminated the Stars in 7 games in the Second Round of the 2015-16 Playoffs before losing to the Sharks in 6 games; before that, the Note swept the Stars in the Conference Semifinals (The old-school name for the Second Round) of the 2000-01 playoffs before falling to the Avalanche in 5 games; and in the 1985-86 Playoffs the Blues defeated the Minnesota North Stars 3-2 in a best-of-five series in the Division Semifinals (An even older-school name for the First Round) before eventually falling to the Flames in 7 games in the Conference Finals.

None of that will matter when the puck drops at approximately 8:50 tonight, of course. The Stars won 11 of their last 18 games down the stretch to secure a Wild Card spot with 93 points in a brutal Central Division. They then went on to defeat the Division champion Nashville Predators in 6 games, finishing it off with a 3-2 Overtime thriller in Dallas last Monday night.

The Blues, of course, have taken a roller coaster ride of their own to end the season. We all have heard the soundbite by now – on January 3rd the Blues were 31st overall in the NHL with 34 points, but managed to go on a tear through the later half of the season which included a franchise-best 11 game winning streak from Jan. 23 – Feb. 19, an overall record of 12-1-1 in the month of February, and to top it off, won 8 of their last 10 to finish with 99 points and clinch a matchup with the Winnipeg Jets in the First Round of the Cup Playoffs. The Blues downed the Jets in six games, finishing off the series thanks to a Jaden Schwartz hat trick in Game 6 in a 3-2 win at Enterprise.

Berube Provides Identity to Club at Crucial Time

Of all the improbable characters to lead the charge of the Blues’ turnaround, perhaps none is more surprising than Interim Head Coach Craig Berube. (You can call him “Chief”). The veteran of over 1,000 career NHL games, Berube joined the Blues as an assistant after a stint as Head Coach of the AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves. He took the reins back in November after the Blues parted ways with then Head Coach Mike Yeo after a disappointing start to the season and seemingly mounting frustration from the locker room.

The transition from November to December revealed a team that once appeared to be packing it up for the season to one that, if nothing else, had a little bit of pride left to play for. As typical of coaching changes in several major sports, the players in the locker room seemed to use the beginning of the Craig Berube era as a wake-up call to save a season that appeared to be lost.

But it was a hard-fought 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers on December 31st that seemed to truly be the turning point to set up the remarkable 30-10-5 run to end the year. Despite taking the ‘L’, the team appeared to be playing with more heart than in earlier months under Yeo. The Blues blasted 40 shots on goal, and only allowed 23 to be fired at Jake Allen. The defense seemed to be more composed, less panicked, and the team as a whole looked to be playing at a much more competitive level.

Berube earned a reputation during his playing days as a an enforcer – racking up over 3,000 penalty minutes in 1,054 career games. And his aggressive style as a player seemed to translate as a coach. Following the Rangers loss on New Year’s Eve, the Blues began playing a much harder, north-south style of hockey. As referenced during Blues radio and television broadcasts, Berube is said to stress the importance of winning one on one battles and “be aggressive in all three zones”. By placing a premium on being a heavy forechecking team, the Blues seemed to have found their identify in the back half of the season and into the postseason.

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The Legend of Jordan Binnington

There’s not a whole lot that can be said about 25-year old Jordan Binnington that hasn’t already been addressed. The Blues’ new-found net-minder has been nothing short of spectacular over his 30 regular season starts and 6 playoff starts. But for all of you stats guys and girls out there, let’s do a quick rundown:

24-5-1 Regular Season Record

Winning Percentage 80%

Save% .927

GAA 1.89

5 Shutouts

Yes, his performance on the ice has been good enough to launch him into the discussion for the Calder Trophy. It’s been good enough for him to be dubbed the NHL First Star of the Week on February 11th after putting up just a silly stat line of 3-0-0 record / 1.31 GAA / .954 save percentage. But I am of the opinion that it’s his quirky, quiet but confident, “I-don’t-give-a-shit-I’ll-do-it-myself” attitude both on and off the ice that has propelled the team to get to the point they’re at now. Maybe I’m a little caught up in the fantasy here, but Binner appears to play with a confidence and an edge that Blues fans haven’t exactly been accustomed to seeing in the last – eh –  20 or so years. Now I’m not in the business of ripping Jake Allen, but for what it’s worth this hockey team has played very, very well with number 50 starting in net.

Binnington’s confidence and goal-stopping ability has built him into a bit of a folk hero in the minds of Blues fans.

His story of AHL afterthought to NHL elite is one of legend.

What will the next chapter of the story reveal?

(SPECIAL) SANDWICH REVIEWS 6 & 7: LeGRAND’S MARKET & CATERING VS. MOM’S DELI

Allow me to get all sentimental with you all, if you wouldn’t mind.

I’ve always found it funny to think about what I picture when I think about “home”. I’ve called two places “home” my entire life – St. Louis and Columbia, Missouri. Needless to say, I am not the world’s most decorated traveler. Having never lived outside of the same 125-mile strip of Missouri dirt, I’ve made some distinct memories around these parts.

Yet, if someone were to approach me at an airport bar and say “Tell me about your home”, I wouldn’t first picture the Gateway Arch perched above the mighty Mississippi…..or the six grand, white columns at the center of Francis Quadrangle…..I wouldn’t first picture the red brick, gingerbread-house-esque homes on the south side of St. Louis, or the white limestone halls of the University of Missouri’s campus…..I wouldn’t first picture the sea of red inside of Busch Stadium, or the Rock M housed in Memorial Stadium.

Instead, I picture myself, my parents and three siblings sitting atop a quilt in Forest Park. It’s summer. The air is warm and thick with humidity, and the six of us enjoy some Mom’s Deli sammies before the newest production at The Muny gets underway.

I cannot tell you why, but this image is what I see when I think about “home”. This scene became a summer tradition in my family, and Mom’s Deli earned a special place in my heart. But sentimental reasons aside, the Mom’s Special received the rank of my number one “go-to” sandwich during my high school years for it’s distinct taste and the feeling of absolute satisfaction with every visit.

Fast forward to 2016. I receive a hot tip on another sandwich spot just around the corner of Chippewa and Jamieson. A little lunch place not a half a mile from Mom’s Deli, but was said to be much, much better than Mom’s offerings. How could I have gone so long without ever stepping foot into this place? How have I never even heard of it? And it was at that moment in 2016, when I arrived at LeGrand’s Market & Catering, that I realized  I had been there many times before. I had been to TOM-BOY (This was the name drilled into my head from the red and white sign above the store’s front door) many times as a young tike with my Grandma (She’s a long-time neighbor) when she would do her grocery shopping. But this place surely was just a meat market, right? There’s no way they could offer a sandwich that could compete with Mom’s Deli, right?

Wrong.

My first visit to LeGrand’s in nearly two decades untapped my curiosity of sandwiches. I found myself returning to try a new offering of their 30+ custom-made sammies weekend after weekend. The juxtaposition of the classic cold-cut that is the Mom’s Special, and the seemingly never-ending variety of toasty hot sandwiches at LeGrand’s honestly inspired me to start this blog. Two sandwich shops. Both so unique in their offerings, and virtually next door neighbors made for about as compelling of a sandwich story that I could think of.

You may be thinking this is a little over the top. I mean we’re talking about freaking sandwiches here. But I would refer you to the DOZENS of individuals that I know personally who identify as upfront “Team LeGrand’s” or “Team Mom’s” persons. I’ve become such a fan of both eateries that I’ve never been able to choose one over the other. Which is what brings us here. Below will feature two sandwich reviews – one of Mom’s Deli and one of LeGrand’s. The items reviewed are my personal favorites from each deli, and both reviews were written objectively. The sandwich with the higher review will be named the winner of this blogger’s head-to-head competition. Let’s get started.

Vendor: Mom’s Deli

Sammie: Mom’s Special

Bread: French

Dine In/Carryout: Carryout

Ingredients

  • Turkey
  • Ham
  • Roast Beef
  • Munchee Cheese
  • Lettuce
  • Tomato
  • Pickle
  • Onion
  • Homemade 1000 Island

Tasting Notes

For those who may not have been to Mom’s Deli before, I strongly encourage you to make the drive to I-44 & Jamieson some time and stop in. If the cold cut sandwiches don’t excite you, come by and grab a bag of Red Hot Ripplets just to check the place out. From the outside, Mom’s could be mistaken for an oversized Lindenwood Park house like many in the surrounding blocks. The red Mom’s Deli and vintage Bud sign at the entrance, however, let you know that you have reached your destination.

A walk inside of Mom’s Deli is like a walk back in time. Once you make it through the door (Assuming there isn’t already a line forming out the door and down the porch) you’re met with coolers of pasta, whole racks of lunch meat, shelves of chips, snacks, beer and wine and yes, Ted Drewe’s. I would guess that you could find some of these same things in the exact same spot 40 years ago. As the line snakes its way to the sandwich counter photos of store’s founders, the Vago family, as well as friends, patrons and community supporters are rested high above the coolers and sandwich boards. The menu itself is not a video monitor but rather a vintage slide-in kind of board like one you might find in a grade school gym. Something about the board makes the experience feel a bit more authentic.

The Mom’s Special is a classic cold cut done differently. It all starts with bread, and Mom’s never seems to cut corners with their presentation of their French bread loafs. My initial takeaway is just how firm the bread of my Mom’s Special is. First bite offers the familiar crunch of the bread met with the unmistakeable roast beef flavor. Second bite and now we’re really dancing. Roast beef, turkey, ham and bread all in the forefront. And at the last moment, the sweet aroma of the munchee cheese kicks in. This cheese is honestly unlike any other that I’ve picked up at a deli. It’s soft – almost like a liquid in texture. It’s never the dominant flavor in any bit yet it compliments the lunch meat in such a way that’s unmistakable. The lettuce, tomato, onion and 1000 Island are in lock step with the meat and cheese for the next several bites. (Pro Tip: Ask for your 1000 island on the side so that you can spread it on your Mom’s Special equitably. You’ll be glad that you did.) 

The Special is just as satisfying as ever, however at the last few bites there seems to be a shortage of meat. My waning bites are just bread and 1000 island sauce, which is a slight disappointment to an otherwise top notch sammie.

Overall Rating: 4.6/5

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Vendor: LeGrand’s Market & Catering

Sammie: Elbirdo

Bread: French

Dine In/Carryout: Carryout

Ingredients

  • Salsalito Turkey
  • Ham
  • Pepperoni
  • Hot Pepper Cheese
  • Provel Cheese (ADD ON)
  • Spicy Ranch
  • Garlic Cream Cheese (ADD ON)

Tasting Notes

Near the corner of Donovan Ave and Chippewa St in the Saint Louis Hills neighborhood, LeGrand’s is not your typical sandwich spot. Some might consider it a market first and deli second, as they offer a bevy of USDA choice raw meat and Boar’s Head deli meat as well as several other grocery items. Quite honestly, with the options of snacks, drink, produce and meat, I think you could survive an apocalypse inside this place. Unlike Mom’s the space is much larger and is accompanied by several rows of dry foods and a multiple coolers stacked side by side with almost anything imaginable.

The counter sits tall and stretches the length of the entire store. The further end is strictly meat market business while the end near the front door is where the sandwich magic is made. The employees – sometimes 8, 10 or 12 – will take individual orders to hand-make your selection from their generous sandwich menu. It can actually be a little intimidating making your choice. LeGrand’s has built a reputation off of a couple of standouts (i.e. the Legend Club) however, for this occasion I had to go with my gut and select one of my all-time favorites. Enter the Elbirdo.

The Elbirdo brings the element of spice that is absent from the Mom’s Special. As you’ll notice from the “ingredients” section, this thing is loaded with meats and soppings. Unlike the opposing munchee cheese, I notice the tangy provel upon the first bite. This cheese stands out to be sure, but the toasty ham and pepperoni are not missing either. I notice the bread, while toasted, still has a bit of softness in its center. The second bite brings the heat – garlic cream cheese (A LeGrand’s staple) is mixed in with pepperoni, salsalito turkey and spicy ranch. The turkey reminds me of a cayenne pepper kind of flavor. The pepper cheese contrasts with the provel in such a way that is unlike any sandwiches I’ve had the pleasure of eating.

Each passing bite seems the have a different flavor. The meats seems to be the boldest yet the cream cheese spread and spicy ranch tie it up in such a way that makes it truly unique. The most notable thing about this Elbirdo, however, is its consistency. Every bite feels equal parts meat, cheese, bread and soppings for an overall sublime eating experience. And it’s exactly what makes it the winner today.

Overall Rating: 4.7/5

So there you have it. The winner by the narrowest of margins is the Elbirdo from LeGrand’s! If these sandwiches were to play 10 times, they honestly might have gone 5-5. But today, the Elbirdo did just enough to be crowned champion. Thank you to both LeGrand’s and Mom’ Deli for giving the world such delicious sandwich treats, and for giving me the inspiration to create this incredibly silly content.

SANDWICH REVIEW #5: Adriana’s On The Hill

Do you remember going to see Santa at the mall as a little kid? The space around you is crowded with people. Everyone is standing in line and somewhat memorized by the decoration surrounding them. At the end of the line, a chance to ask for your heart’s greatest desires awaits.

Adriana’s On The Hill is like going to see Santa in sandwich form.

Since 1992, Adriana’s has been serving up dreams on a plate with their Sicilian-inspired fare, including pastas, salads and, yes, sandwiches. Located at the corner of Shaw and Hereford streets, the lunchtime eatery has earned the reputation as one of the most satisfying sandwich destinations in St. Louis — and believe me, they back it up, too.

As soon as one finds a parking space on the narrow city streets, the magic begins. It really isn’t a stretch to say that it feels like going to see Santa at times. The line is almost always to the door, or out the door, when walking in. As you wait in line, the sights of candy canes and Christmas trees are replaced by epic photos of the Mediterranean and signs with phrases such as “That’s Amore”. (Personal Note: I would describe the decor as an “Italian Beachhouse” vibe, if that existed.)

Finally, as one approaches the counter to repeat their wish list, they are greeted not by Santa but by the jolly face of the restaurant’s founder, Adriana Fazio, or one of her equally cheerful daughters. This time my mother, brother and I are greeted by Adriana’s daughter, Dianna, who could very well be the sweetest lady on the face of the earth. Just a few minutes later, Christmas had come with the sandwich I’d been dreaming about.

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Vendor: Adriana’s On The Hill

Sammie: Gorgonzola Beef

Bread: Garlic Cheese Baguette

Dine In/Carryout: Dine In

Ingredients

  • Hot Roast Beef
  • Gorgonzola Cheese
  • Garlic Cheese Bread

Tasting Notes

Nobody said that you had to have all the ingredients to make a delicious sammie. This sub borrows the ingredients (Hot Roast Beef, Garlic Cheese Bread) from one of their menu classics, the Mary’s Special, and kicks it up 1000 notches with tangy Gorgonzola cheese. The initial standout in this sandwich lineup is the garlic cheese bread, which appears to be a cut from a French-sesame baguette (Probably form one of the many nearby bakeries that have become permanent fixtures on The Hill.)

A slight crunch can be felt upon the first bite. Even before diving into the warm-melty-rich-roasted goodness that is sandwiched between, you can just feel that this bread is fresh. Fresh, and consistent throughout the eating experience.

The garlic cheese flavor is present throughout. It doesn’t overpower the sammie, but rather sits in the background like a bass guitar riff in a classic rock song. The more notable flavor after the second bite is the roast beef. Extremely tender, served warm, and a perfect compliment to the garlic cheese baguette, beef this good is worth savoring. Yet, this sandwich is piled so high with beef that it feels like it never ends. And when you have flavors this strong and balanced, each bite truly is better than the last.

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The top flavor performer of this sandwich squadron, however, is the sammie’s namesake, the Gorgonzola cheese. The menu board that lurks above the counter at Adriana’s describes the Gorgonzola as “Italian blue cheese”. I’m no cheese connoisseur, but I do know that this Gorgonzola is damn good. Placed atop the roast beef, the Gorgonzola is a crumbly heap of deliciousness that melts in your mouth upon impact. The flavor is strong, sharp, but soft. The texture compliments the slight crunch of the bread nicely. And the sharp flavor juxtaposed with the juicy roast beef is a slice of sandwich heaven. I don’t think I can ever go back to beef without it.

Overall Rating: 4.7/5

TIGER TRACKER 2: Missouri (2-0) seeks to avenge last year’s defeat to Purdue

Cliches. Buzzwords. Coach speak. Whatever you call those familiar football phrases, Barry Odom was full of them in his weekly press conference ahead of Missouri’s week 3 matchup with the Purdue Boilermakers.

“We understand and know we have a long way to go, in a number of areas.

“It will be a great challenge on Saturday night, and we look forward to it.

“We had a pretty good practice today, but we need to be even better tomorrow.

“We just try to go 1-0 this week…..that’s where I want to be.”

Odom may not always present the most interesting sound bites, but he knows the correct words to say leading into his first road test of the young season. Yes, Barry O has learned how the play the game. He looks a bit more comfortable atop the podium than in years prior. Heck, he even has established some running jokes with the local media. Odom can also spot the traps more easily in his third campaign as head coach of the Missouri Tigers football program. Case in point, he perfectly addressed a question that he knew would be coming sometime during his Tuesday press conference:

Would you use last year’s Purdue game to motivate the guys?

“We’ve already addressed that one so many times that we don’t really need to go back there. They know what’s out there. They know what happened that Saturday afternoon and the lessons that came from it…to learn from that mistake and use it to our advantage,” Odom coolly replied.

Odom’s calm — and frankly, boring — demeanor while addressing the media is exactly the kind you’d like to see if you’re a Missouri fan in 2018. Barry’s football team is 2-0 for the first time during his tenure, but they cannot become overconfident before facing a third non-conference opponent……and they certainly cannot take any win for granted. And while guaranteeing a win might be interesting, the bland, cookie-cutter, one-week-at-a-time tone will do just fine for this Mizzou fan/blogger.

For those of you out there who don’t remember last year’s meeting with Purdue, Missouri was on the wrong side of a 35-3 beatdown at Faurot Field that derailed the entire season. Were it not for the Tigers’ six straight wins in the softer half of the schedule, things could have looked very, very bleak for Barry O in year two.

In last year’s meeting, Purdue out-gained Missouri 477 to 203 yards, won the turnover margin comfortably as Mizzou gave the ball over three times — including a muffed punt, and won the possession game as they held the ball for 43:43 to Mizzou’s 16:17. By halftime, it felt like nearly all of the 53,000 supporters on hand had fled from Memorial Stadium as the Tigers were in a 28-3 deficit, and would not score a point for the remainder of the game.

There’s no getting around it. It was a horrendous defeat. At times it looked like the 2017 Tigers had given up on Barry Odom. Lessons to learn, indeed.

This year’s team looks to avenge that loss, but more importantly, they want to continue playing solid football. The schedule will not get any easier after facing the Boilermakers, and a road win would offer an opportunity to gain momentum before conference play. Here’s what lies ahead for Mizzou as they get ready to kickoff against Purdue tonight in West Lafayette at 6:30 (CST).

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Drew Lock is slinging the football

Which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. The senior from Lee’s Summit, MO has led the offense by passing for 289 yards against UT-Martin in week 1 and 398 against Wyoming in week 2 in what would wind up being two comfortable victories at home. On the season so far, Lock’s thrown for 687 yards, completed just under 75% of his passes (52/70, 74.3%), while averaging 9.8 yards per clip and boasting a TD/INT of 8/0. And, just for good measure, Lock has rushed for 56 yards and a rushing TD. The most impressive number that Lock’s put up, however, might be a 0.

Lock’s been sacked 0 times so far this season, which may be a testament to his improved awareness/pocket presence and outstanding pass blocking by the experienced offensive line. #3 has looked comfortable and dominated games against weaker opponents thus far. His performance has led to attention on the national stage, and if he manages to orchestrate a “signature” performance against one of the big boys in the SEC, he may emerge as a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender.

Tiger defense looks confident, wants to create more turnovers

Quite a difference one year and a few coaching tweaks can make. Ryan Walters‘ defense has looked solid and has been able to keep inferior opponents at bay through two weeks. The depth of the front seven has proven to be incredibly valuable. Shuffling in waves of different defenders, particularly on the defensive line, will be key for this defense to stay fresh and compete in games this season. The defense forced and recovered a fumble in each of their first two games, and currently holds a 1.0 turnover margin on the season.

The Tiger secondary, perhaps the biggest question mark leading into the season, has looked rather impressive as well. Odom praised sophomore corner Adam Sparks (who looks like he’s improved greatly from last season) in his weekly press conference. Sparks, who was once a Purdue commit, is poised to have another great performance and to pick up the Tigers’ first interception of the season tonight.

Who will break out as Mizzou’s lead back?

At this point, no one knows. Odom indicated that he will use all three pieces of his running back trio “in some way” against Purdue this weekend. Damarea Crockett, Larry Roundtree and Tyler Badie are averaging 3.7/3.8/3.7 yards per carry respectively this season. All three hope to make the most of their opportunities in a matchup that could be pass-heavy against Purdue’s weak secondary.

Everybody likes predictions, right?

While I didn’t bother to pick the UT-Martin/Wyoming matchups, I think this segment could use a few more hot takes – so I will wrap it with my prediction going forward:

Line: MIZ -6.0

Prediction: MIZ wins, and covers, 49-10

Ship. The. Roll. On the Tigers tonight. MIZ

 

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

SANDWICH REVIEW #4: Chris’ Pancake & Dining

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But, if you’re like me, you may not be the most comfortable around egg mixers, stoves and skillets.

Yes, it’s true. I am a lousy cook. Ask any of my former roommates and they’ll tell you — if it can’t be made on a George Foreman grill or brought to the front door, then I ain’t making it. Perhaps this is why I forgo a good, solid breakfast so often. And, perhaps this is why I can appreciate a solid slab of meat between two pieces of bread.

My friends, I write to you this Sunday evening to say that sometimes you can have it all. Sometimes you strike gold in the most unexpected places.

Chris’ Pancake and Dining is somewhat of a St. Louis institution. Chris’ and the other member Bartolino’s Restaurants put a premium on quality and they like to keep things simple, as evidenced by their motto: Cook good food and give plenty. I would say they have kept true to their word, as they have been delivering high-quality dining experiences in St. Louis for nearly 60 years.

Settled at the corner of Southwest Avenue and Watson Road in the beautiful Clifton Heights neighborhood, Chris’ has been a longtime favorite brunch destination after Sunday mass for several local families — including my own. Find yourself in the lobby at 12:30 p.m. on a Sunday and you’re likely waiting for a table to open up. Clamoring, laughter and the ‘ding-ding’ of silverware against glass and china fill the room. Nine times out of ten you will see Chris Saracino himself, or his wife Joanie, seating tables. Alongside the benches in the waiting area you will find coffee and butterscotch cookies, which I would guess are more addicting than crack cocaine. This cozy breakfast eatery, however, serves up a sandwich even more satisfying than its butterscotch treats.

Vendor: Chris’ Pancake & Dining (Southwest location)

Sammie: The Chris’andwhich

Bread: Croissant

Dine-In/Carryout: Carryout

Ingredients:

  • Fried Egg
  • Sausage Patty
  • American Cheese
  • Hash browns (On side)

Tasting Notes

What I particularly like about Chris’ is that its menu contains the breakfast essentials done extremely well, with a bit of Italian influence sprinkled in (i.e. Sicilian omelette.) The Chris’andwich takes everything you love about breakfast and smacks it all together. I will add the disclaimer here that unfortunately I was a bit pressed for time, as legit journalists say, on this Saturday morning. Therefore I had to take this sammie on the run and eat it in my car, but to my delight it did not disappoint.

The egg was prepared just how I like ’em — not runny and not too dry. The sausage patty may have been a bit larger than what you’d typically find on your breakfast plate. It tasted a little smoky to me, and unmistakably seasoned to perfection like all of my prior meals at Chris’ have been. My slice of dairy was a bed of melty goodness that complimented the slightly-spicy sausage and egg perfectly. Why do I not eat breakfast again?

chris
As stated earlier, I had to take my sammie on the run. This photo is from Yelp.

I’ve been asked frequently over these past few weeks what I consider the most when conducting my sandwich reviews. I give the same answer every time — it starts with the bread.

The croissant that held this beauty together was the meal’s MVP. Light, buttery, and delicately soft, the croissant made the sandwich for me from start to finish. It wasn’t particularly warm, which may have brought the entire experience down just a bit. Had I been able to sit at a table to enjoy and not devour it as I swerved through south city, I’m sure this note would have been rectified. Overall, this morning-time treat brought it very strong, and I will have again very soon.

Overall Rating: 4.3/5