The game clock was broken for a big chunk of Saturday’s Missouri-Kentucky game. So were the Tigers.
Though the scoreboard had UK winning 35-21 at Faurot Field, in reality this SEC East clash wasn’t nearly that close. Mizzou coach Barry Odom’s team was hapless on defense, allowing more than 500 total yards for the fourth game in a row, and sputtering on offense. Only three Tigers drives spanned more than 30 yards, and one resulted in a missed field goal.
Were it not for a pair of UK turnovers and a couple nice Drew Lock touchdown throws, the final outcome would look much uglier.
Two-thirds of the way into Odom’s rookie season as head coach, Missouri is 2-6 after dropping its 10th straight SEC game. The defense — a top-10 unit last season under program legend Gary Pinkel — has been one of college football’s worst in 2016. The offense has showered gaudy numbers on cupcakes like Eastern Michigan and Delaware State, but against Power Five foes, the Tigers are averaging just 16 points and less than 400 total yards per game.
Perhaps most shockingly, the dominant play up front that defined “D-Line Zou” is gone.
The advent of coordinator DeMontie Cross’ new defensive system, which asks more of its linemen in terms of reading an offense and filling gaps, has been disastrous. Saturday clearly showed that. The Wildcats’ ground game gashed the heart of his front seven with ease all afternoon; calling it domination doesn’t do this mismatch justice.
What worked for years under Pinkel and D-line coach Craig Kuligowski was changed, seemingly without good reason, and this is the result.
Now we must ask: Is Cross equipped to fix this mess of a situation? Can he build this into something that resembles a capable defense?
Odom took a more active role in the team’s defensive meetings this week, according to Tod Palmer of the KC Star, to help address the unit’s problems. Here were the coordinator’s thoughts on that development:
“I welcome that,” Cross said, via Palmer. “He was successful at what he was doing. I can’t do anything but welcome that. Not only does the defense need it, (but) I need it and the team needs it.”
Cross saying “I need” help doesn’t do much to instill confidence in his vision for this unit. The team getting gouged for 377 yards rushing after its defensive-minded head coach took a more active role in game preparation certainly won’t, either.
Sure, lack of talent is a factor for Missouri this year. The losses of Michael Scherer and Terry Beckner Jr. to ACL tears, Kentrell Brothers moving on to the NFL, the dismissals of Walter Brady and Harold Brantley — all that attrition at least partially explains the current issues on defense.
But Odom and his assistants do not avoid blame here. This was always going to be a difficult year of transition — one made tougher by the loss of an all-time great coach and upheaval within the university administration, including the sudden departure of Mack Rhoades — but the SEC East is horrible this year. Finishing 0-8 in conference play would be a major indictment of the coaching staff.
Fans have reason to believe, or at least hope, that Missouri won’t continue crumbling in Pinkel’s absence. After all, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops went 2-10 in his first season. In Year 4, his squad has a bowl bid all but locked down and an outside shot at winning this weak division.
A lot needs to change for Mizzou to entertain similar thoughts, though. Unless they really start recruiting (the 2017 class currently ranks 12th in the SEC), neither coordinator might be the schematic answer to what’s plaguing the Tigers.
It’s only Year 1, but the clock is ticking.
Missouri Coach Odom: "This is a very elementary statement, but we’re not a good football team."
— Jen Smith (@jenheraldleader) October 29, 2016