Notebook: Odom reminisces as he prepares to face former school
Following the 2011 season, Barry Odom felt comfortable at Missouri. Odom played linebacker for the Tigers from 1996 to 1999, served as a graduate assistant for the team in 2003, then steadily worked his way from director of recruiting to director of operations to safeties coach, a role he occupied from 2009 through 2011. But Odom didn’t like the complacency of coaching the same position group three years in a row, and he wanted a shot as a defensive coordinator, so in 2012, he moved to Memphis and joined the staff of newly hired head coach Justin Fuente.
The situation at Memphis was far less comfortable. Fuente took over for Larry Porter, who had gone a combined 3-21 in two seasons before being fired. The Tigers hadn't had a winning season since 2007, and they were about to move up in class from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference.
As his Missouri team prepares to face Memphis Saturday for the first time since he returned to Missouri, Odom reminisced on the tumultuous situation he and Fuente inherited.
“It was a bad program when we got there,” Odom told reporters Tuesday. “I think the first team meeting, we had about 37 guys on scholarship.”
Memphis won four games during Odom and Fuente’s first year at the school, then just three the following year, though Odom has said the team was actually better in many ways than during his first season. Then, in 2014, the Tigers broke through and won 10 games, including the conference championship. Memphis’ defense ranked No. 11 nationally in scoring, giving up fewer than 20 points per game, and as a result, Missouri hired Odom back to be its defensive coordinator the following offseason.
Odom said being a part of the rebuild at Memphis “made him a better coach.”
“There’s not really anything about that process that was easy,” he said.
Memphis has sustained its success since Odom left. Fuente led the team to a 9-4 record in 2014, then Mike Norvell took over and went a combined 18-8 in his first two seasons. Missouri defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, who joined the Memphis staff in 2014 (he smiled as he pointed out that Memphis jumped from three wins to 10 the year he arrived), praised Norvell for maintaining the program’s relevance.
“(Odom and Fuente) flipped the roster,” Walters said. “Those (players) were really gritty guys, in terms of the toughness that they played with and the way they went to work on and off the field. ... And so they’ve continued that. I think coach Norvell has done a good job of following that footprint and keeping the luster around the city.”
As he does every week, Odom told reporters he isn’t treating this matchup any differently than he does any other game. But he admitted he’ll be excited Saturday to see some of the coaches, administrators and other faces around the program who he befriended during his three years in Memphis.
“It was a great place for our family to live, and got lasting relationships,” Odom said. “Got a whole bunch of people coming to the game, and trying to convince them to wear Mizzou Tigers gear.”
Defense looking to slow down Henderson
Not only will Saturday’s game bring a reunion for Odom and Walters, it will present a unique test for Missouri’s defense. Memphis running back Darrell Henderson has gashed opposing defenses this season. Henderson’s statistics speak for themselves; through seven games, he leads the nation in rushing yards per game (161.9), yards per carry among players with at least 50 attempts (10.3), total yards from scrimmage per game (189.1) and touchdowns from scrimmage (15).
Odom said Henderson has shown himself to be a well-rounded runner, but his most impressive attribute has been his ability to power through contact and break tackles.
“He’s got breakaway speed, he’s got power, he’s strong, tremendous vision, and ... the yards after contact are maybe most impressive,” Odom said. “He is so important to their success, so for us to have an opportunity to have success, we gotta slow him down, and nobody’s been able to do it yet, so we’ll see if we can be the first ones.”
Linebacker Terez Hall acknowledged the threat that Henderson — and the entire Memphis offense, which has averaged 43.9 points per game this season, ninth-best in the country — poses to Missouri’s defense. Hall compared this matchup to the 2016 Homecoming game against Middle Tennessee State, which beat Missouri in a shootout, 51-45. But Hall said the defense has faced other good running backs this season, and it won’t treat Henderson any different.
“We play football just like he do,” Hall said. “We put our clothes on just like him.”
Emanuel Hall out this week, but unlikely to redshirt
Odom announced Monday that, for the third consecutive week, Missouri will be without its top wide receiver when it takes the field against Memphis. Emanuel Hall hasn’t played since Week Four due to a groin injury, and he’s currently away from the team. His father passed away on Thursday.
Since he’s only appeared in four games, Hall is eligible to redshirt this season and extend his college career by a year if he doesn’t play another snap this season. However, Odom said the team likely won’t pursue that option. He said Hall wants to play again this year.
“He said, ‘Coach, I’m so ready to get back and help this team,’” Odom said. “So I think that would probably be the way that we’ll end up going, and he, health-wise, is in a lot better spot right now than he was last Tuesday.”
Other injury notes
Like Hall, fellow senior wide receiver Nate Brown missed each of the past two games due to a groin injury. Brown wore a red jersey during practice Tuesday, signifying an injury, and appeared to practice on a limited basis. Odom said Brown ran more than he had in recent days, but expressed uncertainty as to whether Brown will be ready to suit up against Memphis.
“We’ll see if he can get in a little more activity tomorrow, but we’re moving in the right direction there,” Odom said.
Senior linebacker Brandon Lee watched Tuesday’s practice in street clothes. Odom said Lee sprained one of his elbows and needed to get fitted for a brace, but he is not expected to miss any more practice time this week. Sophomore tight end Albert Okwuegbunam also didn’t participate fully in practice, but Odom believes he, too, will be available to play Saturday. Odom described Okwuegbunam as “under the weather.”