I was wrong about this team.
A lot of us were.
Kelly Bryant was supposed to keep the offense relatively stable after Missouri lost Drew Lock to graduation. The offensive line wasn’t supposed to regress this much after losing starters Kevin Pendleton and Paul Adams. The defense wasn’t expected to be the best in the country, but it also wasn’t supposed to carry the load while the offense collapsed.
Hope for a special season was gashed after last week’s loss to Vanderbilt, and any hope that might’ve remained is now gone after Saturday’s 29-7 loss to Kentucky.
The Tigers looked so good throughout their five-game home stand, good enough to make us think the Wyoming loss was a fluke. They pretty much dominated opponents for 20 straight quarters, winning each of the five games by no less than 11 points.
But this doesn’t look like the team some of us thought could make a run at double-digit wins this season. This doesn’t look like a team that will give Georgia or Florida any trouble. Heck, this doesn’t even look like a team that should make quick work of Tennessee and Arkansas anymore.
Offensive coordinator Derek Dooley’s play-calling was head-scratching at best for the second straight week, as he called for a lot of passes even with the rain pouring down. Multiple short yardage plays that probably should’ve been runs ended up, well, not being that.
The Tigers were assessed multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, mixed in with demoralizing holding or false start flags. There was very little discipline to be found.
The defense played well enough early on, shutting Kentucky out in the first quarter. But when the offense failed to move the ball, the defense seemed to lose its fire. That’s when Lynn Bowden — the Wildcats receiver turned quarterback — began running all over the field, picking up 204 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.
The special teams also clearly needed to improve after last week. But if I’m going to sugarcoat it a bit, the special teams did not improve.
Tucker McCann’s slump continued, as he missed a 45-yard field goal attempt that would’ve given Missouri the lead in the first quarter. The kick and punt return units failed to do anything, picking up a combined 12 yards. And just to kick the group when it was already down, Kentucky punter Max Duffy turned a fake punt into a 26-yard gain — right after Nick Bolton made what seemed to be a momentum-shifting stop.
So, now we’re eight games in and the Bulldogs and Gators sit on the horizon, how do we see this Missouri team?
It’s a team who can beat up on bad opponents when it’s playing in front of a home crowd, but can’t get important wins on the road (or even just win on the road, for that matter). It’s a team whose defense keeps them in it early on, but if the offense isn’t helping out, it cracks under pressure and can’t pick up important stops when the team needs them most. It’s a team that isn’t sure whether to choose the air or the ground, and then makes the wrong choice at the wrong time.
Of course, there have been bright spots. Bolton is probably the lone Tiger who has been consistently great. Albert Okwuegbunam has generally played well when he actually gets the ball (though he did have a pretty bad drop on Saturday). Tyler Badie has been even better this season than in his breakout rookie campaign.
But I predicted a 10-2 team before the season.
I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong.
This won’t be a special season. Unless this team surprises everyone against Georgia in Athens or Florida at home, it won’t even match its win total from 2018.
This just isn’t that special team many thought it could be a little over nine weeks ago.
They can still be a good team, they really can. There’s enough time left in the season to somewhat right the ship and still prove that this is a good team, but Missouri has a lot of work to do to not be considered a step back in Barry Odom’s tenure.