For a moment, as the ball rested near midfield waiting patiently to be picked up, Mizzou’s offense thought it had a moment to catch its breath before the next grueling play against Auburn’s imposing defense.
That defense became enlightened first, though; the play had never been ruled dead. What Mizzou thought was an incompletion turned into a 35-yard fumble return and a humiliating contributor to an onslaught that, in the second quarter, was still just getting started.
Auburn (3-1) handily won the battle of the Tigers Saturday night, running Mizzou (1-3) off its own field in a 51-14 blowout. Missouri suffered its third straight defeat and fell to 0-2 in SEC play with the loss.
“That’s unfortunate that we again get into a situation where we were minus in the turnover margin, and we gave up explosive plays on defense, and then didn’t sustain drives offensively,” head coach Barry Odom said. “Right now, that’s who we are.”
Junior running back Kerryon Johnson led the way for Auburn, lighting up the stat sheet with a five-touchdown night. All five of the scores came from inside the ten-yard line, and four of them were from two yards or fewer.
Mizzou, looking to rebound after the majority of the damage in last week’s 35-3 loss to Purdue came in the first quarter, again was outplayed from the start. Auburn forced a quick punt then completed a 58-yard pass on its first offensive play from scrimmage, setting up Johnson’s first touchdown at the one.
“We obviously wanted to start fast tonight. Didn’t do it,” Odom said. “And then you let the game unfold a little bit, and we didn’t respond to adversity.”
Mizzou had already jumped early for three false starts on its first eight plays of offense, but things really began to spiral out of control for the hosts when junior quarterback Drew Lock’s pass was tipped and intercepted on Mizzou’s next possession. Auburn quickly turned the mishap into another touchdown, and the rout was on.
“We’re just not playing good enough right now,” Lock said. “Anytime you start off 1-3, you’re going to be a little upset, but as far as pushing through adversity, a lot of guys on the team have been through a lot I know since I’ve been here. It hasn’t been the easiest walk of life, but that’s football.”
Mizzou’s upset hopes were riding on a basis winning the turnover battle against an Auburn team that suffered five turnovers to Mercer last week, but the hosts failed to earn a take-away all game.
The struggling Tigers had also been amiss on offense since an opening week, 72-point performance against Missouri State. They broke a massive drought in the second quarter when freshman running back Damarea Crockett scored on a 19-yard screen pass; Mizzou hadn’t scored a touchdown in 129 minutes and a second of game time. Seven entire quarters had passed without Lock’s offense reaching the end zone.
Lock proved to be a silver lining on Saturday though, passing for 216 yards and two touchdowns with a 59 percent completion rate.
“We did a lot of good things today,” Lock said. “It just wasn’t enough.”
Auburn led 31-7 at halftime against a Mizzou defense that’s been hanging in uncertainty since the firing of defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross two weeks ago. Gus Malzahn’s team only put up 24 points last week, and against an FCS team in Mercer.
After a game that seemed nothing but an indication of this Mizzou team’s regression, Barry Odom’s building frustration exploded out of him in a passionate postgame speech to the media addressing the state of the program.
“I want to get one thing real straight: I am going to win here. That is going to happen. We will win. This is a turnaround,” Odom said. “I don’t like it. I want to win right now, but that’s not the hand I am given.”
Odom, under recent scrutiny of his performance in the head coaching role, soon turned defensive of his position. He referenced the program’s history frequently in making his fiery case.
“Fast forward to 2004. Everyone wanted to run Gary Pinkel out of town. That is pretty damn foolish. All he has done is become the winningest coach in program history. That was a turnaround. It took time. That’s where we are at,” Odom said. “It is not going to be easy. Our team knows that, I know that, our program knows that. But I’ve got a guy who is the third team left tackle from Rock Bridge High School that has a Twitter account that has 12 followers, and he wants to put out how terrible we are. That’s the way this society is.”
Odom above all urged patience and faith in the rebuilding process, pointing out that the wins column year-to-year doesn’t always reflect whether growth is occurring.
“I’m building the future of this football team and this program and our kids’ lives, and they’re going to go be successful all the years of their lives,” he said. “They’re going to have adversity in their life, and they’re going to go back to this point on how the respond. So I’m good. I’ve got a platform to be able to go build it. I know what I’ve got in the locker room. We’re going to go win.”
That claim will next be tested in Lexington, when the Tigers start a two-week road stand against Kentucky. Until then, they have their bye week to let Odom’s passion state of the program speech sink in. Mizzou can only hope they bring as much passion to the field as Odom brought to the podium Saturday night.