COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Barry Odom was as prepared as a rookie head coach could be when he took over the Missouri football team following the 2015 season. He had played linebacker at Missouri in the 1990s and worked his way up the ladder under Gary Pinkel, starting as an administrative graduate assistant and finishing as defensive coordinator.
Still, Odom and the Tigers hit a lot of potholes on their way to a 4-8 record last season.
“We’ve all been disappointed in the way we’ve performed — I’m talking about last year,” Odom said. “Those guys that played and were here were disappointed in the things we did not get achieved.”
Odom said he probably overextended himself in 2016, from fussing over relatively unimportant administrative tasks to putting himself in charge of coaching special teams. He also seized control of the defensive play-calling in the middle of the season, and he will continue in that role.
“You make corrections, you make changes,” Odom said. “You understand what your strengths are and go ahead and admit what your weaknesses are, and obviously I’ve got a few.”
The Tigers return 10 offensive starters, including a 3,000-yard passer (Drew Lock), a 1,000-yard rusher (Damarea Crockett) and a 1,000-yard receiver (J’Mon Moore).
The most pressing concern is a defense that ranked 118th nationally last year, yielding 479.7 yards per game. Missouri lost star defensive end Charles Harris — a first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins — but the Tigers do return some talent up front, particularly defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. (a member of the SEC All-Freshman team in 2015) and defensive end Marcell Frazier (7.5 sacks last year).
Some other things to watch as Missouri seeks its first winning season since claiming its second consecutive SEC East title in 2014:
BREAKOUT SEASON FOR QB?
Lock threw for 3,399 yards and 23 touchdowns against 10 interceptions as a sophomore. His accuracy could use some improvement — he’s completed 53 percent of his passes in his career — but his arm strength and 6-foot-4 frame could put him on the radar of NFL teams with a strong junior season.
ALL ABOUT THAT PACE
Missouri runs a fast-paced offense that relies heavily on run-pass option plays — a system most often compared to the one run at Baylor under Art Briles. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the offense produced too many quick three-and-out possessions in losses to West Virginia, LSU and Florida in which they scored a combined 32 points. For the system to succeed in Josh Heupel’s second year as coordinator, Missouri needs to consistently get the initial first down on drives so the Tigers can begin taking advantage of the defense’s fatigue.
TALKING A GOOD GAME
Linebacker Eric Beisel was known mostly for his cool nickname — Zeus — until he went on a trash-talking binge before Missouri’s season finale against Arkansas. He warned that that if the Razorbacks chose to get off the plane in Columbia, “it’d be a huge mistake.” Odom wasn’t amused and asked Beisel to apologize to Arkansas coach Bret Bielema. After Beisel helped the Tigers pull a 28-24 upset , he continued to relish his role as playful antagonist of Missouri’s cross-divisional rival. At SEC media days in July, Beisel said of Arkansas: “That team down south will always be below us — at least geographically.” In preseason camp, coaches and teammates have raved about Beisel’s leadership, and the senior said even Odom appreciates his big personality. “I’m a smart enough guy to know when I’m crossing the line or whenever I’m just hugging the line,” he said. “I like to hug the line.”
HARNESSING HIS POWER
Tucker McCann has a powerful leg, as evidenced by him sending 42 of 64 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks last season as a true freshman. Control was another matter, as he made just 6 of 12 field goals and missed four extra points. The Tigers need a more dependable version of McCann in 2017.
SCHEDULING FOR SUCCESS
After two straight losing seasons, Missouri seems to have created the path of least resistance to a bowl game. Its four nonconference opponents — Missouri State, Purdue, Idaho and Connecticut — were a combined 19-29 last season.
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