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Missouri’s hilariously streaky season continued with a blowout of Tennessee

You have to go back more than a century to find a Missouri season this streaky and bipolar.

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NCAA Football: Tennessee at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

John McLean was a football star at Michigan in the late-1890s and competed for the U.S. in the 110-meter hurdles at the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris. The very next year, he took over as head coach of the Knox College football team, and by 1902 he had a team capable of going 9-2 overall and losing only by small margins to tremendous Chicago and Nebraska teams.

The Knox turnaround was so swift that McLean, still only in his mid-20s, was accused of bringing in ringers. He vocipherously denied the charge, and in 1903, Missouri brought him to town to bring glory to an up-and-down, young football program.

McLean went just 1-7-1 in his first season with the Tigers but improved to 3-6 in 1904; it was a pretty misleading record — they beat Truman State, Simpson, and Transylvania while losing by a combined 124-0 to Haskell, Purdue, Washington (Missouri), St. Louis, Washburn, and Kansas.

The 1905 season was even more extreme. Mizzou began the season with wins of 6-0 over Truman State, 26-0 over Simpson, 28-0 over Missouri-Rolla, 6-0 over Haskell (revenge!), and 18-0 over Tarkio for a lovely 5-0 start.

The Tigers then proceeded to lose their final four games: 24-0 to Purdue, 17-0 to St. Louis, 14-10 to Wash U., and 24-0 to Kansas.

As far as I can tell, that was the last Mizzou season to feature winning streaks and losing streaks of at least four games each. Until 2017, that is. Barry Odom's Tigers have now countered a five-game losing streak with a four-game winning streak, one they will have a pretty good chance at extending next week at Vanderbilt.

As with 1905, the schedule has obviously dictated the streaks to a degree. The five teams that beat Mizzou this year have combined for a 35-15 record, while the Tigers’ last four victims are a combined 13-25. But scoring margins tell us this isn’t just about who Mizzou is playing. Florida stayed within eight points of South Carolina on Saturday, a week after the Tigers beat the Gators by 29.

Meanwhile, Mizzou’s 33-point margin over Tennessee is much closer to what Georgia (41-0) and Alabama (45-7) did to the Vols than what Kentucky (29-26) and South Carolina (15-9) did to them.

Mizzou outgained Tennessee by nearly 400 yards on Saturday night (659 to 285) despite Drew Lock's least impressive performance in weeks. He completed just 13 of 28 passes and threw a pick six on Mizzou's third possession, though he still ended up completing enough big passes to push his passer rating over 150 for the fifth consecutive game.

He didn’t need to do much, though, not with Ish Witter and Larry Rountree III doing nasty things to an overwhelmed Tennessee run defense. The Vols have been woefully inefficient at defending the run this year, but they had been at least decent at preventing big rushes. Not on Saturday. Witter had a 52-yarder, Rountree a 64-yarder, and the two ended up combining for an incredible 371 yards on 42 carries.

What a way for Witter to go out. His final performance on Faurot Field was his best ever. He carried 24 times for 216 yards. I will reiterate what I said last week:

I’m really going to miss Ish Witter

We’ve been passively condescending toward the senior running back for going on four years now. “I like Ish, but [compliment another running back who should obviously be getting Ish’s carries].” No matter how much we hear the coaches talk about his leadership, his blocking ability, etc., we basically respond with, “Yeah, and don’t get me wrong—I like him! But bench him for the rest of time.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player max out his abilities like Witter has, especially over the last few games. With every carry he gets, he empties his bag of tricks to get every possible yard out of it. [...]

It’s really easy to get excited about a Crockett-Rountree backfield in 2018. I just perked up thinking about it right now. But I’m going to miss Witter; he is setting a standard with his effort and his all-out attempt to hit his own personal ceiling. If every future Mizzou back matches his effort, the Tigers are going to be in very good shape moving forward.

And in part because of Witter’s efforts, Missouri’s odds of getting Witter and other seniors to a bowl game are looking better and better. Kudos, Ish.

Kudos indeed.

The Tiger defense, meanwhile, continued to tackle well, remain organized, and torch a bad offense. The Vols drove more than 45 yards just twice all night, and their eight second-half drives produced four punts and four turnovers. Mizzou made freshman quarterback Will McBride’s life hell, picking him off twice and sacking him five times. The Tigers produced a havoc rate of 22 percent, much more reminiscent of the 2015 Mizzou defense than the one that took the field this September.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This is really fun. Yes, the schedule has helped, but this is a damn good football team at the moment, one very much capable of taking down its final two foes of the year as well. With five wins, Missouri might be in position to land a bowl thanks to the combination of a decent APR score and bowl slots not filled by bowl eligible teams.

But the Tigers can end the mystery by winning either at 4-6 Vanderbilt this coming Saturday or at 4-6 Arkansas the week after that. If they continue their current level of play, they’ll win both. It will take a drop-off to end the winning streak.

1905 was McLean’s final season at Mizzou, by the way. In January 1906, he was dismissed by the university for, yes, bringing in ringers. And getting set up by alumni.

No more convincing proof of the evil influence that unfair dealing in football and athletics exerts upon young manhood could be presented than that which Coach McLean of Missouri adduces against that portion of the alumni of [Missouri] which promised to defray the expenses of [former Knox star] Akerson at Columbia, and refused to keep that promise.

"These members of the alumni," says McLean, "toled me that they wanted to hire an entire team of big iron workers to represent the University. I told them that it would not do but called their attention to Akerson, who was a good player, but who wanted money for his work. They agreed to pay him. I advanced the money. When I asked for it they made good by sending my letter to the University authorities. The result of their duplicity is that I have lost my money and my job."

Could any stronger argument against the iniquitous effects of athletic chicanery be advanced? Such men [do] not respect the spirit of honesty, truth or sportsmanship.

I’m betting Barry Odom makes it past January. Gotta keep your eye on those boosters, though.

Tramel and Tashan, post-game

Missouri pounds Tennessee into submission by a score of 50-17. Let the discussion

Posted by Rock M Nation on Saturday, November 11, 2017