Season in Review: Missouri Tigers Football
COLUMBIA - Gary Pinkel left the Missouri football team and rookie coach Barry Odom with all the tools for success - two back-to-back SEC Championship berths, two bowl victories and promising young talent. But after finishing the 2016 season with a 4-8 record and only two conference wins, Tiger fans were left wondering what went wrong.
Pinkel ended his 15-year era with 118 wins, making him the winningest coach in program history. He announced his resignation on Nov. 13, 2015, citing his diagnosis with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma as his reason for stepping down.
While abrupt and shocking to many in the Mizzou family, Pinkel's resignation address left fans with hope for the future.
"I think somebody is going to come in here and take this to a whole different level, that's what my hope is," Pinkel said.
Enter Barry Odom. Hired prior to the 2015 as defensive coordinator under Pinkel, Odom was no stranger to the University of Missouri.
Odom was a highly successful linebacker for the Tigers from 1996-1999. He returned to the program in 2004 and held several positions until 2011 including Director of Football Recruiting, Director of Football Operations, Assistant Athletic Director of Football Operations and Safeties coach.
With a resume like that and additional experience in Memphis, Odom was a clear pick for the athletic department to fill Pinkel's record-setting shoes.
"You're going to be proud of the product that we put in the classroom, in society, and on the football field," Odom said.
The change at head coach led to changes throughout the program.
Shortly after taking the reins, Odom knighted Utah State's Josh Heupel as offensive coordinator to help Drew Lock develop his skills in the pocket for his sophomore season and beyond.
Though Missouri's offense may not have looked good on the field in 2016, the stat book tells a different story.
The Tigers finished in the bottom five in the FBS in points per game in 2015 but with Heupel in the driver's seat for Missouri's up-tempo offense, the team more than doubled its points per game in 2016.
Changes came on the other side of the ball as well. Odom brought in longtime friend and TCU's linebackers coach Demontie Cross and defensive line coach Jackie Shipp from Arizona State.
Unlike the offense, the defense took a step back. D-Line Zou allowed more than 500 yards per game. That's nearly twice as much as in 2015.
Previous success aside, Missouri was looking for its new identity under a new head coach and coordinators.
Drew Lock retained his starting spot at quarterback for the Tigers but his struggles mounted early on against West Virigina when Missouri dropped its first game of the season in Morgantown, 26-11.
To bounce back, the Tigers rocked Eastern Michigan on home turf on Sept. 10. Drew Lock showed his arm against the Eagles, throwing for a career-high 450 yards. He also tied the school record with five touchdown passes. Completing 24 of 37 passes, Lock led the Tigers to a 61-21 win.
With mojo flowing at home, Missouri welcomed its first conference opponent on Sept. 17. The Tigers ultimately suffered crippling defeat by the Georgia Bulldogs.
After the Bulldogs converted a fourth down to take the lead late, wide receiver J'Mon Moore fumbled the ball on the final drive of the game. The Tigers lost 28-27.
Odom hugged every single player on their way off the field that night. He told them the crushing loss wasn't their fault.
"I had to do a lot of maturing and it kind of hurt," Odom said. "Really kind of beating myself up a lot after that loss so I just had to put it behind me."
The next week, the Tigers pulled their tails out from between their legs to host Delaware State, their second non-Power Five opponent of the season. Missouri scored a school-record 79 points and shut out Delaware State on Sept. 24.
October brought tough conference play for the Tigers and no victories - home or away - including the team's third loss on Homecoming in the last five seasons.
The SEC downspiral may have started with Georgia, but picked up with LSU. On Missouri's first trip to Baton Rouge, Derrius Guice and LSU's offense ran all over Cross' defense. Missouri allowed 42 points and its sole touchdown came on a 21-yard trick play pass from Lock to Eric Laurent in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers faced a similar outcome on the road in Gainesville. The Florida Gators scored 21 points off Missouri turnovers. The highlight for the Tigers in the 40-14 loss to the Gators came from defensive tackle Josh Augusta. Augusta scored his first career touchdown in the third-quarter with a diving rush from the one-yard line.
In the Homecoming game on Oct. 22, Missouri gave up more than 50 points to non-Power Five Middle Tennessee State. The 51-45 loss forced Odom to strip Cross of his defensive play calling duties.
"I've got an opportunity to go help that side out and I'm going to do it," Odom said. "I've been trying to balance both sides along with some of the other things and I need to spend my focus there."
The losses on the field strayed from just losing games when the team started losing players.
Linebacker Michael Scherer's senior season came to an end when he tore his ACL and MCL. Scherer was the face of the Missouri defense with 39 tackles and an interception against Delaware State.
"I've got two sons and if they grow up and they're like Michael Scherer then I know I did something right as a dad," Odom said.
Another hit to the defense came when defensive tackle Terry Beckner, Jr. suffered a similar fate, tearing his ACL for the second straight season. Beckner, Jr., while less impressive on the books than Scherer, was still a force for the defensive line, leading all tacklers with 20.
Without its two leading defenders, Missouri struggled against conference opponent Kentucky at home on Oct. 29. Unable to stop Stanley 'Boom' Williams and the Cats, the Tigers gave up 582 yards of total offense in the 35-21 loss.
Following the trend of SEC losses, Missouri opened November with a 31-21 loss to South Carolina in the other Columbia.
The Tigers seemed to buy in late in the season, though, returning home with a 2-7 record to host conference rival Vanderbilt. Missouri knocked off the Commodores 26-17 for its long-awaited first conference win of the season and first win in over a month.
"It wasn't always pretty. You know, we made, we made ourselves really work for it tonight. I was excited to finish one and get that win," Odom said.
That high only lasted a week. When the Tigers traveled to Knoxville on Nov. 19, they packed up and left with a 63-37 loss.
Missouri came out just a handful of yards shy of setting a program record of total yards in a single game against Tennessee yet defensive collapses lost the game for the Tigers.
Team turmoil continued off the field.
Freshman running back and breakout star against the Vols Damarea Crockett was arrested for possession of marijuana before the final game of the year against Arkansas.
The ship went even further off course when Missouri defensive line coach Jackie Shipp was fired for conduct detrimental to the team.
When Rivalry Week rolled in, Missouri's collective team problems were in the spotlight. The Tigers were without two starting defensive standouts, a starting running back and the defensive staff was in an upheavel.
The first half of the Battle Line Rivalry game was ugly. J'Mon Moore scored the Tigers' only touchdown on a fumble recovery and the Razorbacks' run game trampled all over Faurot Field.
The second half was something of a miracle for Missouri. After a trip to the locker room, the Tigers returned to the field to score 21 unanswered points to take the trophy back from Akransas, 28-24.
With the Pinkel years in the past, Odom and the Tigers will take the turmoil of 2016 with a grain of salt and prepare for the future of Missouri football, hoping the end-of-the-season high lasts longer than one Fall afternoon.
Missouri will begin the 2017 season against a coach familiar to many in Columbia as it hosts Dave Steckel and the Missouri State Bears at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 2.