Barry Odom cracked a can of Coke, took a sip. He put it off to the side of a Mizzou football step-and-repeat, and approached the podium.
Looking down, he took a breath and then addressed the media.
The gravity of what happened — and what nearly happened — in a 43-29 loss to second-ranked Georgia was obvious.
“It hurts when you pour everything you’ve got into preparing,” Odom said. “It rips at your soul.”
“The self-inflicted things that we did allowed that game to go the way that it did,” Odom went on to say.
Are you a glass half-empty or a glass half-full fan? Because this was a bi-partisan defeat against the Bulldogs — one of the elite teams in the nation, to be sure.
Let’s start with the half-empty. Let’s actually start with the first word of that description:
Under Barry Odom, Missouri has been halfway there multiple times. Last season against Georgia, Missouri went punch-for-punch with the Bulldogs for a half. After a 1-5 start to the 2017 regular season, Missouri showed up for a 6-0 second half.
Again on Saturday, Missouri was halfway there. Except it was the defense that showed up in the first half, to keep the game a relatively close 20-7 at halftime despite Georgia scoring two touchdowns on returns (a fumble return by CB Tyson Campbell and a blocked punt return by DB JJ Stokes).
By the time Missouri’s offense showed up (a relative term in a day where Drew Lock went 23-for-48 for 221 yards and an interception), the defense faded. Like a climber above his altitude, the oxygen wore thin.
It was a two-touchdown loss that felt tantalizingly closer. It was a two-touchdown loss that Missouri could have avoided, absent those killer mistakes that have become all-too-common in the biggest games under Odom.
“I think the goal now is just playing a complete game,” receiver Nate Brown said.
That’s something we’ve yet to see so far in the biggest games under Odom — think the Texas Bowl or even the win against Purdue a week ago. Sure, Missouri looked stellar to end last season against teams in a run-out-the-clock scenario.
But we haven’t seen that marquee, complete performance in a meaningful game under Odom.
“You see where being halfway gets us,” offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton said. “It gets us a (14) point loss to the No. 2 team in the country.”
And here’s the glass-half-full view of that 14-point loss to the No. 2 team in the country:
Despite the self-inflicted wounds, despite the failure for a complete effort in the biggest game of the season — this team still feels different. I’ve said that from the season-opener, from the win against Wyoming, even the ugly win over Purdue.
This 2018 Missouri football team has a resiliency that wasn’t there for the first season and a half under Odom.
Pendleton, a redshirt senior who has been a part of this tumultuous part of Missouri history, said as much to his teammates after the game.
“We have something special in that locker room,” Pendleton said to his teammates. “I believe it to my core. The second we do play a complete game, we’ll be a scary team.”
I believe that. Missouri didn’t get out-athleted by Georgia. The Bulldogs have an undeniably elite roster — throw a dart at it, blindfolded, and odds are you hit a former 5-star recruit. But Missouri wasn’t bullied or bossed around. Missouri didn’t lose the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball.
Players played through injuries. Emanuel Hall and Nate Brown weren’t 100-percent; Cam Hilton had a heavy cast on his right hand after breaking his thumb against Purdue. He only became limited in the second half, and even then, he still came into the game on every third down.
“Those guys showed me some things this week,” Odom said, “on the way they went and approached and fought through some things like that — I can’t say we would have done that last year. I know we wouldn’t have done that two years ago.”
“We’ve matured,” Pendleton said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have been through some adversity, been in that position where we either make it or we break. A lot of times, like Coach Odom said, two years ago we would have (broken), start doubting ourselves, start worrying about what everyone else was doing instead of turning to yourself and asking, ‘What can I do to make it better?’.
“That was a big point on the sideline. Look at yourself. What are you doing to help the team win and make plays work?”
When Missouri’s defense broke in the second half, surrendering touchdowns of 33, 61 and 54 yards, the offense answered each with a touchdown. But those self-inflicted mistakes of the first half were too much, and the two touchdown returns proved to be the final score differential.
What comes next for Missouri may be the biggest moment of this program since 2014. What comes next may define Barry Odom’s tenure and the future of Missouri football. Because, make no mistake, Missouri is at a crossroads again.
It’s halfway to something. The direction is up to them.
A year ago, we laughed at Odom’s bonfire pep-talk speech. We laughed because Missouri had yet to do anything on the field under his watch that backed up that talk. We were silenced by what came next.
Now, Odom and Pendleton’s comments about the make-up and resiliency of Missouri’s team carry more weight, because they showed us last year. A loss to Georgia — especially in this manner — does not derail this season.
It’s how Missouri answers that will define it. Because with what we’ve seen, Missouri can still be a nine-win regular-season team. That’s a hell of a season for Missouri football, even if we were spoiled by the stretches in 2007-2008 and 2013-2014.
Toward the end of Odom’s press conference, a question made him stop.
How have you grown in how you handle a game like this?
Odom’s silence lasted nearly ten full seconds before he made a joke to deflect.
“Um, silence is deadly, right?,” Odom said, to nervous laughter.
“You look at ways you can always improve yourself, your coaching staff, your organization, your teams, your relationships,” Odom began. “The way that you pour everything into it, in every angle and area. And, I think if you do that with blinders on, and just go work, and everyday you come in and try to make Mizzou football better than it was the day before, and then you do that consistently, and you get a room full of guys in your staff room, and a locker room full of guys that have the same mindset, the same vision, the same mission, then you start moving forward.
“And we have. We’ve taken a lot of steps. We’ve got to take the next step.”
The next step is a bye week. Then at South Carolina and at top-ranked Alabama.
“It’s a focal point for this program, honestly,” Pendleton said.
Missouri’s direction will be clear after that stretch.