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In the Huddle: Persistence, consistency are keys to success in the season’s second half

Coach Terry Dennis offers that consistency in the midst of the unknown will be key to finishing the 2020 season strong.

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

Coming off of lopsided loss in The Swamp what feels like forever ago, the landscape has changed for the Missouri Tigers.

With COVID-19 running rampant throughout college football, we’ve sat for what feels like an eternity, awaiting a trip to South Carolina. Such is the tale of a season riddled with precautions, procedures, regulations and, ultimately, postponements — it’s unlike anything in college football history.

With safety being of greatest concern for student-athletes, having a season at all is a blessing itself. With that blessing, teams are forced to act with a sense of normalcy amongst chaos, pursuing whatever prize looms at the end of their specific tunnel. For some, it’s a bowl. For others, it’s growth.

Approaching the second part of the season, the Tigers are seated in an uncertain fourth spot in the SEC East standings. As with anything in this upside-down year, there’s always an outside chance the Tigers could contend for the top spot in the East. To do so, it comes down to sticking with and executing what they know — like always.

Offensively, it’s safe to say that when the Tigers are on, they’re on. With an 87 percent scoring percentage in the Red Zone — 69 percent of fourth down conversions — and totaling just over 1900 yards of total offense to date, the Tiger offense has proven to be aggressive and explosive when they execute. Averaging 384 yards per game in total offense is no easy task, particularly in the SEC, let alone in wins against LSU and Kentucky, the latter especially. It’s a well-known fact that teams cannot win in this conference without at least a serviceable running game, and Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie have lived up to the task; of the 13 total touchdowns scored this season, seven have come on the ground. Statistically, time of possession is slightly in favor of the Tigers. But what comes outside of the in-game statistics dictates some of the Tigers’ struggles

On the season, the Tigers currently average about 48 yards of penalties per game against, about 16 more yards per game than who they’ve played. The Tigers currently lead in penalties against played opponents, 30 to 23. Discipline has to be a major focus going into the second part of the season, even as the schedule seemingly eases. In a sense, this team is still learning who they are. They’re only five games in with a new staff and an ever-shifting roster. There is a learning process that takes place when given something new. While the Tigers have proven they won’t back down from a fight (literally), they can’t let the unpredictability of the season excuse self-inflicted wounds.

Defensively, Nick Bolton is on a tear. Currently leading the team in total tackles, he sits amidst the top talent in the conference and national standings with 53, sitting only one sack behind Trajan Jeffcoat as the team leader. Collectively, this Tiger defense is a group of ball hawks, hanging closely with their opponents in sacks, assisted and total tackles, QB hurries, and total sacks. The secondary has stepped up in major ways, tallying 23 pass break-ups to their opponents’ nine.

In contrast, though, the run defense has continued to struggle. Things won’t get any easier, as they’re facing down the SEC’s 3rd best rusher, in South Carolina’s Kevin Harris. The following week presents a stacked Arkansas running attack that features Treion Smith and Rakeem Boyd, both well-within the Top 15 rushers in the conference. Somehow, the Tigers must manage roster attrition and thin depth to improve their run defense against a pair of stout opponents.

From a coaching standpoint, it is more of the same; being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Opponents will always change — this year more than ever — and as a staff, there has to be a collective effort to continue to develop these young men for the unexpected. These last few weeks have to have felt like training camp, an endless cycle of going against the same guys over and over and over again. This is where the coaches have to capitalize on the frustration setting in and control it toward the Tigers’ future opponent. Utilizing characteristics such as frustration and anger can pay large dividends in the game of football, particularly in the form of controlled aggression. Discipline, attention to detail, forward thinking, and consistency; that has to be the coaching strategy. At this point of the season, major changes are unnecessary. They cannot afford to change the routine. This type of setback has become the norm for the 2020-2021 season. At this point, change is all but guaranteed on a near daily basis. Consistency and persistence is key.

With half of the season down, the Tigers have an extremely good opportunity, starting now, to flip their season for the better. Get above .500, and give Coach Drink and his staff a reason to smile heading into the offseason. So far, Mizzou has proven it can hang around. Now is the time to prove their worth as a future contender.