COLUMBIA, Mo. — There’s still a lot out there for the Missouri Tigers.
“We have an opportunity to put ourselves in position, if we’ll do the right things throughout the week, to play better on Saturday and that’s our ultimate goal,” Odom said. “We’ve got to carry over what we’re doing throughout the week in practice to put ourselves in position to play better and ultimately you play better and you win games and that’s what we’re setting out to do.
“Through the first six games and I’d like to be sitting here 6-0 but we’re not — just dealing with facts and reality and working to improve ourselves in every area. I think there’s been times defensively, and especially last week, that we look like a pretty good defensive football unit. And there were times throughout the course of the first six weeks that we looked like a really good offensive group. We have to do it together consistently in order for us to have a chance to win a game. Our margin for error is very slim and we’ve got to have things in our favor, from turnover margin to the hidden yardage in special teams to the penalty game, and then offensively and defensively we’ve got to play well enough together to win a game.”
Missouri needs to win four of its final six games to make a bowl game.
That is something that Odom has thought about and wants to see his team achieve in his first year as head coach.
“I talk about it,” Odom said. “Yeah, I absolutely talk about it. I think it’s good to have goals. It’s important for us to to know what is still there and what’s still out there. We’ve got a competitive group. I believe in putting it all out there. Not trying to make it more. I don’t want to put too much on them, but they know it. They read more stuff than I do. They know what’s out there and what’s not out there. I’m very much into open conversations and where we’re at. We’re at six games; we’ve got six games left. There’s nothing I want more than to give our seniors a seventh game and we’re going to work really hard to try to get there.”
The Tigers will likely be favored in each of the next four games — at home against Middle Tennessee and Kentucky, at South Carolina and then at home against Vanderbilt — before closing the season with two more ranked teams in Tennessee and Arkansas.
How important does that make the next four games?
“If you look at the first six, we come out of it 2-4,” Odom said. “If we come out of the next six 2-4 we won’t get where we want to be. We’ve got to do a great job. Again, I’m challenging our team. Don’t worry down the road. Yes, let’s look overall big picture where we are, but now we’ve got to get back to preparing the way we need to to go play our best. If you’re looking forward or you’re looking back, I’ve learned, we’re probably not going to be very good. We need to have an unbelievable Tuesday practice and if we do that then I know we’re moving in the right direction.”
Odom said making a bowl game in his first year as the Tigers coach is really important to him.
“I want to win them all and that’s not going to happen this year,” Odom said. “I’ve got that one checked off my list of not going to happen. A bowl game? Absolutely it would mean progress for us. It would mean an opportunity to have 15 practices or however many we can get before that bowl game for the development of our young players. And it’s a reward that I want our seniors to have, that I want those guys to experience.
“The thing in collegiate athletics, you look at being able to provide experiences for your student-athletes that they are going to carry with them the rest of their life. A bowl game is absolutely one of them and one that I remember greatly from being in their shoes. I want that for them. We’ve talked about it and we have a lot of work to do. That’s still out there for us.”
Sophomore quarterback Drew Lock's struggles at Florida — he completed four of 18 passes for 39 yards and two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns — and Marvin Zanders' success late in relief have many wondering if Missouri will use Zanders more this week.
Odom did not indicate any potential changes with the quarterback situation, which to this point has been mostly Lock with some limited snaps for Zanders here and there.
“Marvin did some good things the other night as everybody got to see,” Odom said. “The first drive he was in I don’t think we had a lot of success that drive. But as the game wore on, more later in the game, he did some really good things. I think with him and continuing to develop both of those guys, we’ve got to have a good plan going into it on how much can both of them do.
“There’s a balance there on making sure that we don’t ask one or the other to do too much on what they can or can’t do. I think Marvin is continuing to grow in all aspects of the playbook. I don’t ever want to get to the point where Drew can do this and Marvin can’t do that. I don’t want to be the run guy and the pass guy. That doesn’t really help too much as you’re looking on the other side of the ball defensively. We’ve got to be able to run our playbook.”
Odom was asked if Zanders will see an increased role against Middle Tennessee.
“It will depend quite a bit on just what we think we can get,” Odom said. “Going into the week just as we build the offense or as we do every week offensively and defensively, we kind of build a plan for the week on what they’ve shown, the opponent’s shown, on where we think we can get an advantage. I’m excited about what Marvin did. I’m excited about the plan moving forward with him helping our football team.”
FRESHMAN GARRETT IMPRESSES
One of the changes on the starting defensive group at Florida was true freshman middle linebacker Cale Garrett entering the starting lineup with Michael Scherer moving to one of the outside linebacker spots.
Garrett responded with eight tackles, which ranked fourth among the Tigers, in his first career start.
What has impressed Odom about Garrett so far?
“He was an early enrollee. He came here in January so he went through our winter conditioning program, he went through spring ball,” Odom said. “He has a decent knowledge base on the defense for a freshman and really has continued to improve each week. He’s played on every kicking group that there is throughout the course of the season and kept getting more reps defensively.
“We thought that moving Mike Scherer over to the other spot would give us an advantage there that we were needing and then Cale was the best guy at the mike position. He played pretty well the other night. He’s going to have a really good career. He’s got a high football I.Q. and enjoys the game of football and he’s a great competitor.”
GIBSON STEPS UP AT CORNERBACK
The Tigers went into fall camp looking like redshirt freshman T.J. Warren could be the guy starting at cornerback opposite Aarion Penton this season.
But when Warren got hurt and was out of practice or limited by the injury, it was redshirt senior John Gibson who emerged as the starter there.
With two interceptions against Florida, Gibson now has three this season — which ties Penton for the team lead — and has five in his 44-game career at Missouri.
“Quietly, J.G. has had a solid year,” Odom said. “Still challenging him to take another step, as we are with Aarion (Penton). He’s playing very, very assignment sound and his technique has improved greatly. Through the first six weeks he’s doing a nice job. I’m proud of him taking this step. He’s matured and he’s played some pretty good ball.”
EXPANDING AUGUSTA’S ROLE?
Senior defensive tackle-fullback Josh Augusta added to his impressive season with a 1-yard touchdown run on Saturday at Florida, which was the 6-foot-4, 355-pounder’s first career touchdown.
Could there be more in store for the big fella?
Odom was asked about the possibility of getting Augusta involved in the passing game.
“With that short yardage or goal-line package there’s a whole other group of plays that we rep a lot,” Odom said. “Josh, he’s doing some good things on both sides of the ball. Still, the old school in me kind of likes the quarterback under center and our fullback in the backfield. Josh would like to see it eight or nine times a game. So we’ll kind of keep evolving it a little bit. He’s athletic enough that he can do some of those things.”
Augusta showed off his athleticism against Florida when he chased down a running back down the field following a screen pass, a highlight that has since made the rounds on social media.
“It was unbelievable, wasn’t it?” Odom said. “We showed the team that, the defense that. There was a screen over to our boundary. We missed the tackle. The tackle got up on our corner and made the block. The ball cut back. Josh was down the line of scrimmage just like we wanted him to do. He wasn’t in exact position for it, knew he couldn’t lay out and make the tackle. So he turned upfield and really it about 25 yards down the field that Augusta made the tackle. Tremendous mental toughness and individual effort, extra effort, to make that play.”
LOOKING AT MIDDLE TENNESSEE
Middle Tennessee comes to Columbia this Saturday with a 4-2 record after suffering a 44-43 overtime loss against visiting Western Kentucky on Saturday.
The Blue Raiders are averaging 38.5 points and 541.2 yards of total offense per game so far this season.
Quarterback Brent Stockstill Brent Stockstill has completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 2,091 yards, with 18 touchdowns against five interceptions. Running back I'tavius Mathers has rushed for 725 yards, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, and 10 touchdowns. Mathers has 27 catches for 302 yards and two scores.
“Tremendous challenge for us with Middle Tennessee coming in,” Odom said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach (Rick) Stockstill. I knew him from my time at Memphis and really admire the job he’s done there, the way he’s recruited, the attitude that they play with, their tempo, their urgency. Everything about the things that they do I admire. So it will be a great challenge for us. We’ll have to prepare really well and play really well to have a chance.”
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