Eight games have gone by in the 2019 football season. As the Tigers regroup around their second bye week, the confidence around the team is at a season low, and it’s pretty easy to see why: 3 losses, all to teams who are viewed as inferior to the type of team Missouri was billed to be. So what the heck is going on? Well, as someone who has watched all eight games of the season at least three times each, I have some feedback to deliver.
- A healthy Kelly Bryant can’t do it himself
You’ll see this comparison later this week once I update the “KB vs. The Legends” piece, but Bryant is essentially replicating James Franklin’s 2013 season. The difference, of course, is that Tanklin missed 3 games due to injury while KB has been injured the past 3 games and played through it. KB can run but won’t break a game open like Brad Smith could. Bryant can make safe, high percentage throws like Chase Daniel could but doesn’t have weapons to hit deep like Maty Mauk or Drew Lock did. Franklin was at the helm of a memorable season because he — and everyone around him — stepped up and performed the above expectations simultaneously. Bryant is a great distributor and play maker, but needs guys around him to step up, and as of now, those other 10 aren’t doing it.
- Derek Dooley does not trust the running game
I do not know why this is the case, but for reasons unknown to me, Dooley will abandon the run quickly. We saw it against Wyoming, again against Ole Miss, and now in disastrous results against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Let’s face facts: Larry Rountree III cannot create space for himself. He’s excellent in the open field with momentum (4.65 HLT yards for the season), but can not burl his way through the line if the running lanes are clogged and can’t bounce outside effectively (43% success rate on the ground, worst on the team). Tyler Badie is excellent in the screen game — which really needs to be used more — and split out wide but doesn’t function as a typical running back muscling for 1-2 yards (41% opportunity rate, worst on the team).
When Dooley abandons the run, he gets Badie in the game and starts passing. Now, that’s not a terrible idea, since with Kelly Bryant at QB, you essentially have a running threat that can transform any passing play into a running play. The problem is that a healthy KB wasn’t dynamite on the ground (4.5 yards per carry) and, now injured, is even less of a consistent threat. Which means you’re left with the receiving corps trying to make a play.... which leads me to the next point.
- The Tiger receiving corps is not good
Kelly Bryant leads the SEC with a 26% drop rate. That means, for every four passes that he throws, one of them is hitting his receiver in the hands and harmlessly bouncing to the turf.
Johnathon Johnson has the most targets on the team with 45, but only is getting the necessary yards needed 42% of the time (worst on the team). Jonathan Nance is probably the Tigers’ best receiver with his 50% success rate, but only catches his passes 55% of the time, second worst on the team among receivers with more than ten targets. Speaking of the worst catch rate on the team, by the way... Jalen Knox, my candidate for filling Emanuel Hall’s shoes, is rocking a 52% catch rate and 44% success rate, and has seemingly been benched for Kam Scott, who has acquired Knox’s case of the dropsies over the past two games. My Beyond the Box Score for Vanderbilt talked about the issue of not having a game-breaking receiver: if you also don’t have reliable efficiency receivers (slots/tight ends), then your passing game is useless. That’s an appropriate descriptor of the Tiger passing game over the past two games.
- Albert Okwuegbunam and the tight ends are not being utilized correctly
I say this as someone who does not game plan, self-scout, script plays, or understand play-calling management, but I stand by this sentiment. Albert O is the Tigers’ best receiver (with at least 10 targets): 64% catch rate (2nd to Barrett Banister), 57% success rate (1st), 17% efficiency (1st), 0.65 explosiveness (3rd to Kam Scott and Tyler Badie). And he’s been targeted 28 times in 8 games. Are they saving his health for his draft stock? Are they hiding his poor blocking ability? If it’s the latter then, in theory, Daniel Parker, Jr. should be getting more action. He and Albert have the same Catch Rate and Success Rate, but DPJ has half the targets. Again, to salvage a struggling passing game, tight ends and slots should be targeted much more frequently and it’s just not happening.
- Defensive End has no impact
Jatorian Hansford, Chris Turner, and Tre Williams have been the highest usage defensive ends for the season. Here’s what they’ve done so far!
Hansford: 13 tackles, 2.5 TFLs
Chris Turner: 12.5 tackles, 2 TFLs, 2 sacks
Tre Williams: 10 tackles, 2 TFLs
That’s it. Jordan Elliott has more TFLs than those three combined and plays on the interior where it’s harder to make those types of plays. The fact that a long-term project player and a guy who wasn’t on the team for 8 months are the top of the depth chart is unsettling, but a defensive line needs that outside pressure and it’s been noticeably absent this year, even in the wins.
- Cale Garrett covered a lot of mistakes
It’s amazing how much better a defense is when it has two guys playing at the peak of their powers, cleaning up messes. Cale Garrett had a 28% havoc rate and was the leading tackler in every game he played. Devin Nicholson and Cameron Wilkins have been fine, but if your defensive line is requiring backups that doesn’t deliver, that puts an excellent secondary in a spot to help stop the run and remove their ability to safely play coverage. I asked Coach Bussen about his observations specific to running quarterbacks. I won’t give away his article (read it, it’s going to be super insightful as always) but he pointed out that Garrett’s backups are susceptible to misdirection when, by design, they shouldn’t have to worry about that at all. That comes from youth and inexperience at the college level, something that the Tigers didn’t need to worry about with Garrett. Again, the defense hasn’t been the problem this year, but I’d say (with no numbers to back this up) that Garrett was worth a touchdown to this Missouri team, either in stopping a score or scoring himself. Losing him has made this team worse and it’s been felt in the past two games.
- Tucker McCann is not, and will never be, an accurate kicker
Effective punter? Surprisingly, yes! Elite kickoff guy? Mother forking shirt yeah, dude hasn’t let anyone get a return. Placekicker? Nah, man. McCann was renowned for his leg strength coming in but accuracy was never his bag and he’s continue to remind people of that every year. He had a brief renaissance his sophomore year but, at this point, he is what he is: a 70% field goal kicker who’ll nail a 50-yarder in the rain but gak an extra point on a bright sunny day: he hasn’t, and will not, be better, and anytime Odom trots him out for a field goal that the team absolutely needs is an indictment on Odom’s ability as a head coach. Speaking of which...
- Barry Odom is an excellent defensive coordinator and not a great head coach
Think of a time where Odom managed the clock perfectly. Or an instance where his team took a punch and then countered to pull ahead and win? Can you cite an example of an assistant hire that didn’t make you audibly yell “WHAT”? Look at this list of players that the staff raved about...
- Jordan Ulmer
- Aubrey Miller
- Logan Christopherson
- Messiah Swinson
- Cameron Wilkins
- Simi Bakare
...and ask yourself: are these players contributing, now, and in a consistent manner? Has Jalen Knox done anything outside of the first 6 games of last year? Has Albert Okwuegbunam learned how to block or catch passes in the open field? Are Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie any better than the first day they stepped on campus?
Tactically Odom does questionable stuff. Managerially Odom makes poor choices. In talent acquisition we get hyped for the next new thing, push out the old (who, once was, a next new thing) and then...nobody improves. Granted this is all common for a first time head coach but that leads to this...is Barry Odom learning, and getting better, as a head coach? There are arguments for and against but the fact that we can’t collectively say “yes!” is concerning for a guy in his fourth year on the job.
The season isn’t over. The fan base buried Odom after the Purdue game in ‘17 and the Kentucky game in ‘18, and he responded by ripping off winning streaks to close out the year. It’ll be much harder to do that against Georgia and Florida but hey— who the hell knows how the Odom magic works. This season still has opportunity for happy surprises, but if the team we saw the past two weeks that performed at the 17th percentile against Vanderbilt and 9th percentile against Kentucky keeps showing up, this will be a disaster of a season.
These things can be corrected, mind you. Maybe Dooley fixes the issues. Maybe Walters stops slanting the line against the running back, leaving the quarterback with so much happy space to frolic about.
We’ve seen the floor of this team, and by addressing the issues above we can still potentially see the ceiling as well. It just depends on if you have faith in this coaching staff earning their keep.