Odom, Mizzou seek answers to post-bye blues
On Saturday, head coach Barry Odom and Missouri knocked a major monkey off their backs by beating South Carolina for the first time since 2015. The team’s next opponent, Troy, isn’t quite as familiar, but the Tigers will have a chance to get over another hump. (And no, this isn’t about revenge for the 2004 loss to the Trojans.)
Under Odom, Missouri is yet to win a game following a bye week.
One of the more mystifying trends during Odom’s three-plus year tenure has been the inverse relationship between the amount of time his team has to prepare for a game and its record. In the past three years, Missouri has lost all three of its matchups following an idle week, which it will enjoy this Saturday. The Tigers are also 0-2 in bowl games under Odom and 2-2 in season openers, with the two wins coming over FCS opponents Missouri State and Tennessee-Martin. Put that all together and Odom has yet to beat an FBS team with more than a week to prepare.
Odom is well aware of the pattern. One of his first remarks following last weekend’s win was that the team plans to take a different approach this week than in bye weeks past.
“I know I’m not very good coming off of a bye up to this point, and I know it’s been well documented, and I appreciated you guys pointing it out,” Odom said. “... That’s why we’re changing our routine. We’re going to treat it just like an in season (game), like we’re going to go play next Saturday. We’re going to game plan on Sunday night and Monday, and we’re going to practice, and we’re going to get better as a team Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. And then we’re into game week.”
During the team’s weekly media availability Tuesday, players said they have picked up on the changes. Normally their workloads ease up a bit during a bye week, but even though Tuesday’s practice was shorter than most, Missouri’s players said the intensity level felt like the team was preparing to play a game in five days.
“We’re still practicing on the same days we’d normally practice,” senior linebacker Cale Garrett said. “We’re still off on the days we would normally be off. So we’re treating it like a normal week without playing on Saturday.”
“You’d think as a bye week that we could kind of ease and kind of chill,” slot receiver Johnathon Johnson added. “... I mean, you could say the (number of periods in practice), he cut the periods down, but it don’t really feel like it because he still had us running all over the field. So it don’t feel like a bye week to me.”
The coaching staff has changed its schedule from years past as well. Normally, coaches use an idle week to hit the road and visit recruits. Odom said the staff is waiting to do that until this weekend, when the team has finished practicing for the week. In the meantime, they are getting a head start on watching film of Troy and installing a gameplan.
“Typically we’ve been on the road recruiting,” Odom said. “We’re going to stay in house all week this week, get out at the very end of the week. And then the way that we’ve practiced — we did some good-on-good today and we’ll do it again tomorrow, but also we’ve already got, up to this point, we’ve got the Troy game plan in.”
It’s difficult to spot trends in the team’s past losses after a bye week — as Odom said, “I don’t know if there’s a common thread other than we’ve lost.” However, there are a few apparent similarities. Each of the past three years, Missouri played on the road against an SEC opponent after its week off. The Tigers were overmatched at Florida in 2016, they clawed their way out of a 13-0 hole against Kentucky in 2017 before falling short on the final possession and they blew a nine-point lead in a calamitous third quarter at South Carolina last year. The team also entered the bye week in each of those three years coming off a loss. This season, of course, Missouri enters the bye having won three games in a row, and Troy is not quite the same level of competition as the past three opponents.
Defense and turnovers have also plagued Missouri in its losses with more than a week to prepare, though those problems were certainly evident in other games as well. Combining the two bowl games with the three defeats after bye weeks, Missouri has allowed an average of 36.7 points and 433.6 total yards per game. The Tigers have committed 12 turnovers in that span while forcing only eight.
The same two areas, defense and turnovers, remain key this season. In Missouri’s season-opening loss against Wyoming, it allowed 389 total yards and finished minus-three in the turnover battle. In the past three games, the defense has surrendered 178.7 yards per game and has forced five turnovers, three of which were returned for touchdowns. Meanwhile, the offense has only given up the ball twice in that span.
Senior cornerback DeMarkus Acy said he isn’t concerned about Missouri’s losses with multiple weeks to prepare in the past. If the team continues to focus on the same areas that have keyed its recent three-game winning streak, he said, the next game will take care of itself, no matter when it occurs.
“No superstition,” Acy said. “At the end of the day, that’s in the past, and we can’t do anything on that. This is a new team, new year, so we’re not worried about what happened in the past. Can’t control it.”
A couple other notes from Tuesday's media availability:
-- Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters has been steadfast that he did not implement any grand schematic changes following Missouri’s Week One loss to Wyoming, but he did admit to one tweak Tuesday. For the first time since he took over as the team’s defensive coordinator last season, Walters watched the Tigers’ season-opener from the booth, calling the defensive plays in via headset. Afterward, he decided “it won’t happen again.”
Walters said he prefers coaching from the sideline because it is easier to communicate with players.
“Just the communication,” he said. “We talk all the time throughout practice and it's the same game day. You've got to be able to adjust, the offense is doing what they do and once they break the formation, there's so much communication that goes into place. Also just being able to feel like you're involved in the game from an emotional standpoint and just being able to read the pulse of every individual guy and also collectively as a team. It's been fun to be on the sidelines and feel like I'm a part of what's going on pre and post snap.”
-- After missing Saturday’s game due to a neck injury suffered during the third quarter of Missouri’s win over Southeast Missouri, left tackle Yasir Durant practiced fully Tuesday. It appears Durant should be able to return to the lineup against Troy. In other injury news, tight end Brendan Scales donned pads and participated in part of practice for the first time since breaking a bone in his foot during fall camp. Defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat also was a limited participant in practice. Jeffcoat has not played this season due to an elbow injury suffered Aug. 2.