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Technically, Missouri showed improvement from Purdue to Auburn. I guess. Maybe.

Patience requires at least a little evidence, Coach.

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NCAA Football: Auburn at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

1. Missouri showed up, I guess

In Friday’s preview, I wrote this:

Mizzou will probably have to check all four items on that list to beat Auburn, no matter how iffy Gus Malzahn’s Tigers have looked at times. But the list only matters if Missouri takes the field and plays like a team that has actually scouted its opponent and actually walks onto Faurot Field ready to win. That’s a prerequisite, and we have absolutely no idea how Missouri will respond to last week’s horrendous performance.

I felt like Missouri indeed showed up to Faurot Field last night. The Tigers looked like they had some semblance of a clue of what was going on. That was a clear step forward from last week’s debacle. If they played like they had against Purdue, they’d have lost by 60. Improvement!

Missouri was also still down 14-0 after seven minutes, 31-7 at halftime, and 45-7 six minutes into the second half. So we’re talking semantics here. It was still bad.

2. Auburn won all the 1-on-1s

Auburn doesn’t do a ton of creative things. This isn’t 2013-era Gus Malzahn. Any systemic advantage you tend to find — and back in 2013, Malzahn’s ability to use motion to create instantaneous 2-on-1s and 3-on-2s was incredible — tends to evaporate over time when all the other coaches watch film, watch what others are doing, and eventually figure out some answers.

Malzahn still does a really nice job of creating 1-on-1s, though. And when your one isn’t as good as their one, that’s really all that matters. Auburn tackled Missouri players in space beautifully, as we figured they would, and most of Auburn’s big offensive plays, their guy simply beat Missouri’s. Auburn’s first play from scrimmage for example — Kyle Davis beat Logan Cheadle deep. Nothing more, nothing less. He got good position, ran a good route, and there was nothing Cheadle could do about it.

It didn’t get much better from there. I felt Missouri’s defense was reasonably well-organized. Auburn just forced Tiger defenders to make plays they couldn’t make.

Auburn’s defense, meanwhile, managed the numbers perfectly. A lot of systems like Missouri’s try to almost split the defense into thirds and figure out where the numbers advantage lies. With the way Auburn positioned its safeties, Drew Lock was looking at situations where his three receivers on one side were shadowed by four defenders and his one receiver on the other side was shadowed by two.

The choice, then, was to either run between the tackles or ask the running back to string things wide. More often than not, Lock made the correct choice based on what the numbers were telling him. But the numbers didn’t matter because Auburn’s defenders up front torched Missouri’s blockers. Again, they force you to win 1-on-1s. And against Missouri, they won most of them too.

3. Keeping Missouri’s starters in that long was a waste

With Missouri down 51-7 early in the fourth quarter, Missouri sent Lock and its starters back onto the field to face Auburn’s second-string defense. J’Mon Moore eventually caught a touchdown pass, finally finding a 1-on-1 he could win.

With eight minutes left following an Auburn punt, Missouri sent Lock in again. He gained some more garbage time yardage but was eventually lit up and fumbled, and Auburn ran out the clock.

Why? What was the point of that? To generate confidence for your starters, I guess? Even if it did that with the one touchdown drive, a) it almost got your starting quarterback decapitated, and b) you need answers, not confidence. You need to find more guys who can help out. We know what the starters can (not) do against good teams’ starters. We need to see what other options you’ve got.

Missouri did dust off Nate Brown and give tight end Al Okwuegbunam more of a go (he caught two of four passes for 26 yards and one drop). So there’s that. But Dominic Collins, maybe? Is Justin Smith still on the team? And how the heck did Larry Rountree III end up with only four carries after how good he looked in those four carries? Did he get hurt and I just missed it?

4. Barry Odom is technically right — it does take a while sometimes. But...

Also from Friday’s preview:

Wins and losses will always matter, but it takes pretty special circumstances to get justifiably fired before your third year as a head coach. Sometimes improvement isn’t happening as quickly as you’d like it to, and while that’s frustrating, it’s not necessarily fireable. We know Missouri fans can be as impatient as anyone, but few schools have proved the virtue of patience quite as much as Missouri. Gary Pinkel could have been fired after 2004 or 2005. Or, hell, if you believe what he says in his book, he could have been fired after 2012, too. Patience pays off more often than not.

But patience also requires a baseline of proof. The bar isn’t incredibly high, but you have to clear it. And allowing your team to play as haplessly as Odom did last Saturday — as you announce that you just had the best week of practice in forever, no less — is, if it happens enough, fireable.

It’s only happened once, though. And if Missouri rebounds, plays with fire and some semblance of organization, and finishes, say, 5-7 or so, I bet Odom gets a third year. You can can make a case against it, sure, but I bet he gets it. [...]

Last Saturday was either the low point before the rebound, or it was a tipping point toward a quick end. It’s up to him to figure out which.

As Gabe Dearmond put it last night, in last night’s postgame rant, Odom just had his I’m a Man, I’m 40 moment. He had a lot of things pent up, and he unleashed them on the media. He probably felt much better afterward, and in a lot of what he said, he wasn’t wrong.

(He also had a lot of half-formed thoughts that seemingly got verbally shoved out of the way by the half-formed thoughts behind them. Been there, Coach.)

I find myself very torn at the moment. I’m the patience preacher. I’m the guy who tries to step back and find big-picture perspective to make myself feel better after losses. But I can’t figure out what I think after last night. It indeed wasn’t the kind of unprepared mess that the Purdue game was. But...

  • ...the offense is demonstrably worse than it was at the end of last year. Yeah, I know all about Drew Lock’s record against P5 defenses, but he finished last season, but over his last three games of 2016 he completed 56 percent of his passes for 882 yards and a 2-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. His first three games against P5 this year: 49 percent, 639 yards (even while staying in the last two games in garbage time), three TDs, five picks. And while Damarea Crockett averaged at least 5.4 yards per carry in seven of his last eight games in 2016, he’s averaged 3.3 over the last two. I understand he still might not be 100 percent after the South Carolina injury, but damn.
  • ...the defense still has no idea what it wants to be. It’s sometimes aggressive and sometimes reactive. It’s sometimes 4-3 and sometimes 3-4 and sometimes (usually) nickel and sometimes not and ... well, there’s a reason why I get nervous when I hear a coach say “We’re multiple” a few too many times. You can be multiple and good, but you have to be good at something first.
  •’re making the same mistakes more than once, Coach. After Missouri State, you said you made the defensive gameplan too complicated and needed to simplify. After Purdue, you said you made the defensive gameplan too complicated and needed to simplify. After South Carolina, Josh Heupel said their defense did some things you didn’t expect, and it threw Lock off his game. After Purdue, I’m pretty sure he said the same thing. You’re taking on too many duties, you don’t know who you trust, and you’re going to run yourself into the ground very, very soon.

Plus, the examples Odom used during his rant — the Larry Smith era, 2004 and 2012 at Mizzou, the Memphis rebuild — require some context.

  1. He didn’t inherit what Larry Smith inherited. I think we can agree that he didn’t exactly inherit peak Pinkel-level talent, but that “wall” that Smith had to break down was infinitely bigger than the one Odom is dealing with. Same goes for the Memphis rebuild that he took on with Justin Fuente.
  2. Fuente’s team showed massive second-year improvement, by the way.
  3. Pinkel was in his fourth season and had generated three straight years of improvement before his 2004 stumble. And even in 2004, one side of the ball (defense) was showing promise. And Mizzou only lost one game by more than 17 points. Mizzou has now lost three straight by that much.
  4. In 2012, Missouri was dealing with quarterback injuries and still beat Arizona State and Tennessee and 10-win UCF and lost three games by tiny margins.

Patience requires a baseline of proof. Justin Fuente and Gary Pinkel provided it. Larry Smith needed a while to provide it at Mizzou but had at least done so in other head coaching gigs. In winning the Big Things battles but losing via Little Things, Missouri was providing it at least a hair under Odom. But now the Tigers are dealing with their second straight Big Things loss. You’ve got eight games to provide more evidence, Coach.