Missouri Football: Takeaways from the Tigers’ 2017 season

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

The regular season is over for the Missouri Tigers, but this year, Mizzou ill go bowling. Here is what we learned from the season.

Barry Odom never lost the team, but he is not out of the woods

After getting blown out by Purdue in the third game of the season, everyone feared the worst, myself included. I thought the team was already showing signs of giving up and not being prepared for games.

Tactically, the defense was plain at best and showed a lack of effort. That lack of efort led to the firing of defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross – whether he was truly the problem, we’ll never know – and Odom took over.

After losing to Auburn and falling to 1-3, Odom gave an impassioned speech.

The bye week passed, and Mizzou headed to Kentucky for their first road game of the season. Not expecting much, I came away happy with what I saw against a tough Wildcats team on the road.

I was especially pleased with quarterback Drew Lock, who had struggled on the road before this season. The close loss in Lexington and his gritty performance at Georgia the next week made the team believe in themselves again. After that, the Tigers reeled-off six straight wins.

Here was the downside: Beating Idaho, UConn, discordant former powers Florida and Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas isn’t much to write home about. Of all those wins, the last one was arguably the best opponent (and in Fayetteville, the toughest game).

So I’m not ready to let Odom off the hook, yet. Next year, he has to avoid a slow start. In his first year, the team started 2-7 before finishing 4-8; this year, the team started 1-5 and then finished 7-5.

Drew Lock is not as good as his record-setting numbers

This season, Lock set the SEC record for touchdowns in a single season with 43. However, those numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. Seven of those touchdowns (one-sixth) came in the opener against an FCS opponent.

Moreover, only 25 of those touchdowns came against SEC opponents. The only performance that really impressed me was against Kentucky. It was on the road against a tough defense and he didn’t throw any interceptions – one of only three games in which he did not get picked.

Watching him tear apart traditional powers like Florida and Tennessee was fun, but it really didn’t prove much to me. Head coach Randy Shannon was in his first game leading the Gators and Butch Jones was fired after the Tigers ripped the Vols apart.

There have been rumors circulating that Lock might go to the NFL. Personally, I don’t think that will happen. I don’t think he’s ready, and I think he’d be better off to wait, because in the 2019 draft he could go much higher.

What concerns me even more is the fact he had a completion percentage below 50 in four games this season. Granted, the receivers share a large portion of that burden in some games. But there is no denying Lock can be erratic at times.

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With that thought in mind, he will draw comparisons to Blaine Gabbert, who went 10th overall in 2011.

Lock and Gabbert are two very different players. Lock has far superior arm strength and is much more of a risk-taker than Gabbert was. Lock’s biggest question going into the NFL will be decision making.

Gabbert played everything so safe that he hardly ever made mistakes, but he didn’t have great arm strength and seemed inaccurate more than about 15 yards down the field.

For Gabbert, intellect certainly wasn’t a problem as he made a 48 on the Wonderlic test. However, it is inevitable that Lock’s big arm will tempt someone. Regardless of where he gets picked, he will be a project in the NFL.

The defense still misses Craig Kuligowski

When Odom took over, the longtime defensive line coach left to join Mark Richt at Miami. The line was pushed around in the running game time and time again and didn’t seem to tighten up. This has been going on for the past two years, since Kug left. Moreover, lots of missed tackles. This defense has the athletes to be a very good unit but they need to be better at the fundamentals.

Defensive tackle Terry Beckner, Jr. was a hot and cold type of player this year. Early on, it seemed like he would take plays off, but when he was on, he was nearly unblockable. He reminded me a lot of Warren Sapp. He has the speed and quickness to be just like the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer star.

What has been missing from the defense was the dominant pass-rusher. Guys like Shane Ray, Michael Sam, Aldon Smith, Kony Ealy and Justin Smith (to name a few) have come through the program and have dominated the edge. Defensive end Marcell Frazier was supposed to be that guy this season, but he only had seven sacks, with 3.5 coming in the last three games.

In addition to Beckner, I was impressed with defensive tackle Rashad Brandon. He really made a name for himself this year. While the guys in the middle held their own, the outside rushers were a disappointment.

The running game was effective, albeit somewhat inconsistent

Over the last few years, there have been some good running backs for the Tigers: Russell Hansbrough, Henry Josey, Tony Temple, Kendial Lawrence and more. This year, Damarea Crockett was supposed to be the unquestioned top dog. But he dealt with injuries, which allowed Larry Rountree to play a much bigger role than expected.

The Raleigh, NC native was a freshman this season and rushed for 629 yards on 112 carries and six touchdowns. Meanwhile, senior Ish Witter became the number one back with almost 1000 yards (992) and five touchdowns on the ground.

Case in point: They rushed for 178 yards against South Carolina then 70 against Purdue the next week. Later in the year over 200 yards against Kentucky and then 59 against Georgia the next week.

With Crockett’s return and Rountree having another year of experience under his belt, this could be a dangerous rushing attack in 2018 for Missouri.