A first-time head coach (Barry Odom) recruits a rag-tag group of misfits to form a gridiron task force: Zouicide Squad. Their first game leads them into the mountains of West Virginia and into certain danger with musket-wielding beards.
2 stars (out of 5) You're killin' me, Smalls!
"Never has America needed college football like it needs it in 2016." The opening sentiments spoken by play-by-play man and narrator Tim Brando struck me as odd and lingered with me throughout the game. Not because I found it to ring true. Not because it touched me on a deeply personal level. Not because Brando's voice scratches me where I itch. No, because I was left with the exact same question after his remark as I was once the game clock struck zero… "What the hell was that?"
Fair or unfair, the Missouri Tigers enter 2016 with fan base expectations of "It can't be worse than last years 'Missouri vs 2015: Punt of Offense', right?" Well, probably not worse. It just might not be much better. So let's get to what didn't work.
Three words synonymous from last season fans were hoping to avoid on Mizzou's first drive? "Three and out." Follow that up with an out-of-whack defense - which sadly appeared lost for most of the game - and you have yourself an underwhelming introduction. It wasn't until the 2nd quarter where the Tigers established any rhythm but even then the promise of action fell relatively flat with some questionable play-calling. Three more words Tigers fans should prepare themselves to utter more than once this year: Zanders? Now? Seriously?
Offensively we really only got a good look at Drew Lock (280 yds, TD) and J'Mon Moore (8 rec, 104 yds). Sure they displayed decent chemistry but you may come away wondering why Moore (23 targets, 4 drops) appeared so often on your TV screen. Graduate transfer Alex Ross (18 car 67 yds) was okay but for the most part disappeared into the background. Sean Culkin (2 rec, 27 yards) popped up for a couple fun scenes but other than that he was just there. I suppose you could say that about the rest of the offensive ensemble: they were simply, ya know, there.
The worst part, in my humble opinion, was the glaring absence of identity. I couldn't honestly tell you what story they were trying to tell on either side of the ball. The offense was all over the place and the defense was not, unfortunately.
Special teams. I hope Corey Fatony doesn't leave early.
Chris "Joker" Black (6 rec, 102 yds, TD). In limited action, he dazzled and left you wanting to see more - not Moore. Four of Black's six receptions came with less than 4 minutes to go in the game, however. How can that be? It felt as though his scenes were left on the cutting room floor in favor of more, ya know, Moore.
Just like the "Joker" can't go on without a little Harley Quinn in his life, Chris Black needs himself a star quarterback. Stepping into that spotlight: Drew Lock. He set a career-high with 280 passing yards Saturday and that was really only 2 quarters worth. Since we are in the "good" portion of the review, I'll refrain from mentioning his abysmal first and third quarter stats. For the most part, though, Lock delivered just short of a breakout performance - seemingly getting over his camera-shyness from a year ago. The kid's gonna be a star, says this critic.
Then there was my personal favorite: Aarion Penton (1 Int). The quick gap-closing cornerback out of St. Louis should have stolen the show outright but his performance is somewhat forgotten in that the rest of the defense was at times unbearable to watch. So in case you stepped out to pee or grab another beer while he did this, I have you covered.
And another angle.
Like I said, there are a few bright spots to hang your hat on. Those that don't believe in optimism - or wear hats - are probably already calling for Barry Odom's head after one game because it's fun to jump on the bandwagon and trash things on the internet.
Theories and overreactions:
"Barry Odom is in over his head. This was too big a task to take on for a first-year head coach. He needs to be removed before he screws up the entire franchise. Rabble, rabble, rabble, rabble!"
"Who cares? I hear we're moving to the Big Ten next year. It's a better fit anyway."
"Should have hired Tom Herman, man."
"The team wasn't ready. We should have pushed back the start date to November."
"This wasn't the team they advertised in the previews!"
"Attica! Attica! Attica!"
Summary: Listen, this was not a good game - most of it ugly and difficult to stomach. My goal was not to sit here and convince you otherwise. All I'm trying to convey is this: it's not as bad you think. The performances by Lock, Penton and Chris Black alone should at least inspire an ounce of hope and optimism toward future installments. Overall, though, the Zouicide Squad leaves you bitterly disappointed but mostly frustrated knowing it could have been so much more than it was.
What do you think? Rate the game below using the Smalls-o-meter and find out what the rest of Mizzou Nation thinks.
Rock M Review Ratings
*You're killin' it, Smalls (60% or more Mizzou fans rate the game positively)
*You're killin' me, Smalls (59% or fewer Mizzou fans rate the game positively)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime / Rated PG-13 (for being just so damn bleak)
Starring: Drew Lock, J'Mon Moore, Corey Fatony, Aarion Penton, Michael Scherer, Josh Augusta
Featuring: Musket-wielding beards
Produced by: Josh Heupel and DeMontie Cross
Directed by: Barry Odom