COLUMBIA, Mo. — The word of the day during Missouri football coach Barry Odom’s press conference on Monday could have been “consistency.”
That word, or some form of it, came up several times during Odom’s 30-minute talk with reporters as he discussed the state of the Tigers (2-3 overall, 0-2 in Southeastern Conference) coming off a bye week and preparing to play at No. 18 Florida (4-1, 2-1) on Saturday.
“We have seven weeks that we need to take them one at a time to have an opportunity to get as good as we can,” Odom said. “I’m still excited on both sides that we can become a really good football team, but we’ve got to do it on a more consistent basis. That’s probably the thing that frustrates me the most right now. There’s glimpses of time that we look really good offensively and sometimes really good defensively and then we don’t do enough to capitalize either on a drive or getting off the field on third down. So we’ve got to do a better job coaching and making sure that we execute when the opportunity presents itself.”
The Tigers are 2-3 with losses against West Virginia, Georgia and LSU sandwiched around wins against overmatched Eastern Michigan and Delaware State. There’s been some good, some bad and some ugly so far.
Odom, Missouri’s first-year head coach, says his team still has a long ways to go to get to they want to be and they are trying to build on the positives from the first five games.
DEFENSE STILL A CONCERN
The Tigers went into the season looking to be strong again on the defensive side of the ball after the remarkable season they had a year ago defensively.
That hasn’t been the case and that’s left the Tigers searching for answers.
“You look at our third-down percentage, we’re not very good right now,” Odom said. “I think if you could get that number to where our goal wants to be, then we’re talking about some different things. But that third-down percentage goes into being pretty good on first and second down, where you’ve got a third and longer amount. Overall just the consistency of getting off the field, getting the ball back. I think we’ve defended the pass and had some interceptions that obviously have helped.
“But we have to play more consistent offensively and defensively. That’ll help more than anything. It’s never good on offense when you go three and out, especially when you’re playing with tempo. That doesn’t serve well for your football team. Our best chance right now offensively is to try to play fast. I don’t know that we would be very efficient if we lined up in a huddle and tried to come out of it and run power football. That’s not what our roster is right now. It may be someday but it’s not today. Same thing defensively. You’ve got to get them into third downs and then you have to find a way to get off the field on third downs and get the ball back.”
ODOM NOT HAPPY WITH KICK RETURNS
The Missouri coach was asked on Monday if he was happy with the return game.
“Kickoff return absolutely not,” Odom said. “We have not been very good on the front line getting the blocks. There’s been one or two opportunities we’ve had to really crease one and we’ve missed it. Then there’s been other times we’ve missed blocks.
“We have to put our offense in a better situation starting the drive. I’ve challenged myself and our kickoff return unit. That’s the first play offensively that we have of a drive. Let’s get another first down for them and make it easier.”
The Tigers are averaging 18.5 yards per kick return so far, on 16 attempts, while opponents have averaged 23.2 yards on 10 attempts against Missouri.
Running back Alex Ross, who excelled as a kick returner at Oklahoma, is averaging 22.5 yards on two attempts but has been out with an ankle injury. He could return to action this Saturday.
“He will help us in the return game,” Odom said. “He’s got the ability to do that. We’re counting on that to happen.”
LOOKING AT FLORIDA
Florida’s defense ranks as one of the best in the country right now.
The Gators are leading the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense (11.6 points per game), total defense (230.4 yards per game) and pass defense (139.8 yards per game) and are second in rushing defense (90.6 yards per game). Florida ranks in the top four nationally in each of those categories.
What does Odom see from the Gators’ defense?
“They are very athletic,” Odom said. “Play extremely hard. I think that the structure of the things that they do, they can take away part of your offense by a couple of the guys they have lined up on the perimeter with the way they play. They are really good. They present challenges when they go man coverage with their skill set and up front they are pretty good.”
Offensively, Florida is expected to get quarterback Luke Del Rio back after he missed the past two games with a sprained left knee.
“Looking early, especially the Kentucky game, I think they scored 45,” Odom said. “He was pretty efficient all day in that game. He played really well. … He looks mature there to me, just hanging in the pocket, not forcing the ball too much. Then he’s got 81 (Antonio Callaway) on the outside and No. 4 (Brandon Powell) that can keep you up at night the way they can catch the ball and what they do with it after the catch.”
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