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In The Huddle: Curing what ails the Tigers

Terry Dennis takes us In the Huddle to offer his thoughts on what’s ailing the Missouri Tigers.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

CoMo, we have a problem. Not just one, but several.

In the interest of time, let’s narrow things down. We’ve heard the narrative surrounding Coach Barry Odom, how he is to blame, and how he needs to go. We’ve all bought into the hype a time or two. We’ve also all had our expectations diminished in some aspect or another. Still, we continue to approach each week with new hope. That is the heart of what it means to be a Mizzou Football follower.

History will tell the tale of a program that had all the promise in the world, seemingly all the correct pieces in place, yet wasn’t able to get over the hump. There’s no such thing as a fluke in college football. The ingredients of preparation and execution stew up the perfect recipe to winning and losing, and they are new every week, every day, every practice, every rep.

What does that mean in terms of results? It can’t be said that the Tigers play down to their competition or that they have completely failed to deliver in defining games. What can be said is that these Tigers can’t seem to win on the road, and it’s uncertain which team will come to play week-to-week.

Should Mizzou Nation expect the team who absolutely decimated a South Carolina team who went on to then pound Kentucky, upset then #6 Georgia in Athens, and compete with a surprisingly good Florida team? Or should they expect the opposite, with a defense who has allowed an average of 248 yards/game rushing in their 3 losses, 304 total yards through the air on offense the past two weeks, and a spotty kicking game? The Tigers woes are concerning, particularly against opponents who, on paper, shouldn’t be able to compete with Missouri.

The uncertainty is what leaves many Mizzou faithful searching for answers in the past weeks. However, there is plenty of football left to play. With that said, let’s narrow down the things that need corrected in order for this team to be successful for the remainder of the season:

1. Stop the Run:The above statistic is no typo. The Tigers have given up a staggering 284 yards/game on the road, telling the tale of their three losses on the record. The teams the Tigers have lost to at this point are not the Georgia Bulldogs. This team is much bigger, quicker, disciplined, well-coached — the whole gamut. If the tone can be set against the Bulldogs, it could ignite the proverbial lightbulb the Tigers need going forward.

2. Win Third Down. The Tigers have converted a mere 39 percent of 3rd downs this season. Though you can’t win them all, you can’t expect to win football games going 3-and-out and having your defense constantly on the field. Winning third downs at a consistently higher rate comes down to who wants it, and who can execute.

3. Discipline. This one is multi-faceted. Effectively, the game plan is solid with a running quarterback like Kelly Bryant. However, with a little added pressure, his decision-making goes from level-headed to pure athleticism and trying to make things happen. Where the passing game has suffered, the Tigers have been able to make up for it with averaging 184 yards per game rushing. This is due (in some part) to Kelly Bryant’s efforts to make something out of nothing. But it has also led to careless turnovers, poor decisions, missed opportunities to convert, and what many might call a sporadic display of scramble football. The Tigers also average 17 more yards per game in penalties than their opponents. Penalties can make or break drives and/or momentum at any given point. Disciplined teams learn not to make careless or desperate mistakes. Though some calls may truly be horrible, discipline when tired, down a few scores, etc. will win football games more often than not.

There’s temptation to call the season based on the last two weeks, and you might be justified in doing so — to an extent. Many might feel that the Tigers owe them better. They’re not wrong — again, to an extent.

From the perspective of this former player and current coach, this program owes it to itself to set the tone — not just for winning the next football game, but retaining staff, retaining fans, gaining the upper hand in recruiting, and creating an enjoyable experience for all involved.

Ultimately, there is no one person to blame within the program, without blaming them all individually. It’s accountability, it’s execution, and it’s on the shoulders of everyone in this program to not let the preceding weeks define what comes next.