In his first six seasons at Missouri, Gary Pinkel went just 7-13 in the month of November. The Tigers were outscored 79-10 in their last two games of 2001, saw a 4-4 start turn into a 5-7 finish in 2002, completed a spectacular 2004 collapse with losses to Kansas State and Kansas, went from 5-2 to 6-5 in 2005, and went from 7-1 to 8-4 in 2006.
November struggles helped to create the “exceeding expectations in the most disappointing possible way” vibe that defined the first half (or so) of Pinkel’s Mizzou tenure.
That would change. Over the next eight seasons, Mizzou would go either 3-1 or 4-0 in November seven times. The Tigers’ 7-1 start in 2007 turned into an 11-1 finish. They won double-digit games in 2008 and 2010 on the power of a 6-2 November record. They had to go unbeaten in November in both 2013 and 2014 to win the SEC East; they did just that.
From 2007-15, Pinkel went 26-10 in November, a win percentage of 72 percent. Take out shaky finishes in 2012 and 2015 (a combined 2-6), and the Tigers were 24-4 (86 percent) in the other seven seasons.
Barry Odom was perceived as a continuity hire when he was selected to succeed Pinkel in 2016, but he didn’t see it that way. He retained only two primary assistants (Cornell Ford and Andy Hill), preferring to absorb some of Pinkel’s lessons but strike out on his own.
The transition has included plenty of strikeouts. Some of his first assistant hires didn’t stick — he’s already on his third defensive line coach in 24 months, and soon he’ll be on his second defensive coordinator (third if you consider that Odom basically hired himself as DC this year after dismissing DeMontie Cross). His record in two Septembers is 1-5 against FBS foes. It’s 2-6 in two Octobers.
It’s 6-2 in two Novembers, though.
Mizzou won two of its final three games in 2016 to somewhat salvage a 4-8 campaign and build some optimism for 2017. And after a terribly disappointing first half of this season, Odom’s Tigers figured some things out just as all their opponents on the schedule were disintegrating. Wins followed.
Granted, November effects wear off if you don’t eventually figure out September and October. But Missouri’s program trajectory feels completely different than it did at the end of either of those months. A great ending can paper over issues with plot lines or character development.
We know the role underclassmen have played in this rebound, from juniors Drew Lock, Emanuel Hall, Terry Beckner Jr., and Terez Hall, to sophomores Cale Garrett, Richaud Floyd, and DeMarkus Acy, to freshmen Larry Rountree III, Albert Okwuegbunam, and Adam Sparks. But I want to spend the rest of this post talking about three seniors who have made a habit of saving their best for November. Mizzou needed all three of them in a major way on Friday.
J’Mon Moore’s last regular season game was ... fitting
- 2015-17 (November): 12 games, 59 catches, 917 yards, 6 TD
- 2015-17 (before November): 24 games, 92 catches, 1,462 yards, 15 TD
Maddening drops and frustrating moments? Check.
Big-time plays and “This guys could maybe do something in the NFL!” moments? Check.
Against Arkansas, Moore caught 10 of 17 passes from Drew Lock for 160 yards and a huge fourth-quarter touchdown. He drew a defensive pass interference penalty as well. Seven of his 10 catches came on Mizzou scoring drives. When he caught a pass, good things tended to happen for the Tigers.
He also had at least three drops, including one on a free play (Arkansas jumped offsides) that didn’t count as an official incompletion. He’s maddening even when he’s great.
Moore hasn’t quite had the end to the season that he put together last year. Hall’s emergence played a role in that, as did, frankly, Okwuegbunam’s. But he still finished November with 21 catches for 341 yards and three scores, and his performance against Arkansas pushed him over 1,000 yards for the second straight year.
Moore is now up to 2,412 career receiving yards, fourth all-time at Mizzou. He would need a 247-yard bowl performance to catch Chase Coffman for No. 3, which probably won’t happen, but at No. 4 he’s ahead of Jeremy Maclin, Martin Rucker, Will Franklin, Victor Bailey, and plenty of other awesome receivers. He was asked to do far too much in 2015 and early 2016, and he’s constantly had to fight battles with immature moments and concentration. But just as he finished 2016 with three straight great games, he saved his best of 2017 for the end.
Ish Witter improved every year and every November
- 2014-17 (before November): 286 carries, 1,267 yards (4.4 per carry), 7 TD
- 2014-17 (November and after): 200 carries, 1,094 yards (5.5 per carry), 6 TD
Hope you enjoyed your all-day ice bath on Saturday, Ish.
Witter carried 39 times against Arkansas on Friday, and I’m guessing he was the impetus for the confusing play-calling at the end of the game, where Mizzou appeared preoccupied with scoring a touchdown instead of simply running out the clock and kicking a field goal. My guess was that Odom really, really wanted Witter to score the winning points.
Alas, he came up a yard or two short and finished with only 170 yards in 39 carries. It was the fourth time he’s ever carried more than 20 times in a game, and he carried way, way more than 20.
Witter’s most high-carry games
- 39 for 170 vs. Arkansas (2017)
- 31 for 163 vs. Tennessee (2016)
- 25 for 76 vs. Georgia (2016)
- 24 for 216 vs. Tennessee (2017)
- 19 for 121 vs. MTSU (2016)
- 17 for 139 vs. Kentucky (2017)
- 17 for 83 vs. Florida (2017)
- 17 for 54 vs. UConn (2015)
- 16 for 102 vs. Vanderbilt (2017)
- 15 for 82 vs. Florida (2016)
Four of these 10 games have come during Mizzou’s six-game winning streak. (Before 2017, Mizzou was 1-4 in games that featured a heavy Witter workload.) And with Rountree struggling (52 yards in 15 carries), Mizzou needed him desperately.
November Marcell is a damn first-round pick
- 2016-17 (before November): 16 games, 30.0 tackles, 6.5 TFLs (4.5 sacks), 4 PBU, 4 QB hurries
- 2016-17 (November): 8 games, 24.0 tackles, 15.5 TFLs (10.0 sacks), 3 PBU, 8 QB hurries
Frazier needs to go to a cold-weather NFL city so he can pretend it’s November earlier than November. He was a non-factor in the first two months of the 2016 season, and he was merely decent through two months of this season. But he has laid a path of destruction in each of the last two Novembers.
He was a huge piece of Mizzou’s wins over Vanderbilt and Arkansas last year, and after recording 6.5 TFLs through nine games this year, he has seven in the last three.
Frazier had 6.5 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, a sack, a QB hurry, and three breakups against Arkansas. He was the primary source of Tiger havoc, and his contributions were huge — Mizzou held Arkansas scoreless on only six of 13 drives, but in those six possessions, he had two TFLs and all three PBUs. He also stopped a run for one yard. As iffy as Mizzou’s defense may have been, it would have been much worse if Frazier hadn’t been so dominant.
In 2012, Rice was on the verge of getting head coach David Bailiff fired but ripped off five wins in six games to reach a bowl at 6-6, dominated the bowl, then won Conference USA in 2013.
In 2015, meanwhile, Georgia State went from 2-6 to 6-6 with a perfect November, reached its first bowl ever ... and then went 3-9 in 2016 and got coach Trent Miles fired all the same.
As incredible as this run has been, future context will still define how we view it. Mizzou could pull a Rice, or it could deal with all the same September awfulness next fall. But Novembers are defining Odom’s tenure so far. That’s one trait of Pinkel’s that he did hold onto.