By Chris Mitchell
Ever heard of the king vulture?
I didn’t until Saturday night while doing research for this column. According to National Geographic, king vultures operate in the same way their commoner relatives do; they’re scavengers, and scope their respective habitats for the corpses of dead animals and small rodents to feast on just like any other vulture.
The only real distinction between king vultures and regular vultures are their head and necks; while the rest of the body is monochromatic, the neck and head of the king vulture have striking red, yellow, and orange hues. So despite the name and the (semi) colorful exterior, at the end of the day the king vulture is still a vulture; biologically predisposed to the same habits of their non-regal cousins.
On Saturday, the Missouri Tigers lost at home to the No. 12 ranked Kentucky Wildcats 15-14 on the literal last play of the game, set up by a questionable defensive pass interference call on cornerback Demarkus Acy.
This all despite leading 14-3 with a little over ten minutes remaining in regulation. Missouri’s offense, led by former four-star quarterback and potential first-round NFL Draft pick Drew Lock, failed to pick up a single first down in the second half.
This included a key 3rd-and-2 that would have sealed the game if they converted. Missouri 0-4 in Southeastern Conference play, and 4-4 overall. The Tigers still have to face ranked Florida Gators on the road, and finish the season against unremarkable Arkansas, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt.
The locker room mood felt a lot like the aftermath of the South Carolina game, in which both players and coaches alike were shell shocked.
Head coach Barry Odom described the loss as “one you live with forever,” while players like senior offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton lamented his team’s misfortune.
“I’m tired of having to learn how to win,” Pendleton said. “These type of games keep happening.”
It was different from losses like Missouri’s 51-14 loss Auburn Sep. 24, 2017, where Odom was sparked his team with a fiery post-game speech leading to his first bowl game as a coach. It was different from the upset win against Arkansas in 2016 that looked to be a sign of good fortune to come after a long, dark road.
On Saturday, the Tigers sounded like a team resigned to their fate, waiting on the hangman to come from the gallows instead of chomping at the bit for their next big challenge. At best, this is a team that could match their 7-5 record of last year, with something far worse on the other end of the spectrum.
It’s very difficult to assess a coach’s overall performance three years into Odom’s tenure, especially under the circumstances that earned him the head coaching job. However, there are a few solid facts that can be observed:
Since the start of the Barry Odom era three years ago, Mizzou’s record against SEC opponents is 10-16, and if you take out teams that finished at or above .500 in those seasons, that record drops down to 1-16. As of now the Odom-coached Tigers have beaten only three bowl eligible teams: BYU in 2015, Eastern Michigan in 2016, and Arkansas in 2016 (jury is still out on Purdue in 2018).
Instead of running the ball on that aforementioned 3rd-and-2 to force Kentucky to burn a timeout, Odom and first year offensive coordinator Derek Dooley elected to throw it deep on a rollout, which resulted in Lock’s pass finding the turf with junior wide receiver Jonathan Johnson well-covered.
In games where Missouri is supposed to show up and punch at or above their weight level, they usually get knocked down and, usually pretty decisively. Against paltry opponents, Lock looks like the best quarterback in the SEC, while looking akin to 2018 New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning against average and above opponents.
Against low-level teams, the defense feasts, and reminds fans of defenses in the years they went to the conference title games led by the likes of defensive line greats from 2013-14- Michael Sam, Kony Ealy and Shane Ray- while looking lost and unorganized at best against legit opponents.
Not only do the Odom-era Tigers lose to teams they have no business beating, they have a hard time beating teams they should beat, as well.
After a game like this one thing can be made clear, and it’s that this is a team that gorges itself on poor SEC opponents and non-power five conference opponents. The only times Odom looked like he outcoached his SEC peers is when those peers already had a foot out the door anyway (see, Florida’s Jim McElwain and Tennessee’s Butch Jones in 2017).
The only real difference from last year is that this year’s team seems to keep innovating in the “Exciting and Interesting Ways to Melt Down and Lose A Game” department.
I say that to say that I submit to you, reader at home, that the current genetic makeup of the Barry Odom-led Missouri Tigers does not resemble the tigers on the side of their helmets. They have more in common with that of the king vulture.
Edited by Garrett Jones | firstname.lastname@example.org