August 14, 2017
by Jess Nicholas, TideFans Editor-in-Chief
Overview: Barry Odom’s first season as a head coach went about as poorly as it could have gone, especially when judged in the light of what his predecessor Gary Pinkel was able to accomplish with a similarly-talented roster. These have not been gentle times at the University of Missouri, from the attention and controversy brought by the Michael Sam situation, to campus protests largely over racial matters, and then a threatened strike from Missouri plays over the latter that Pinkel’s staff didn’t manage well. The 2016 season felt like something of a blur, and for 2017, Missouri now must contend with the decimation of its defense – a defense that was already a liability due to talent gaps.
Projected record: 3-9 (UF, UGA, UK, USC, PU, AU, UT, VU, Ark); 0-8 and 7th SEC East
Returning offensive starters: 10 (SE, FL, WR, LT, LG, C, RT, RG, QB, RB)
Returning defensive starters: 3 (LDT, FS, SS)
Returning specialists: 2 (PK, P)
Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
QB: Av DL: Pr
RB: Fr LB: Pr
WR: Vg DB: Fr
OL: Av ST: Av
Offensive breakdown: The best thing Missouri did on offense in 2016 was find a running game. Damarea Crockett, who returns, finally gave Missouri a power option in the backfield and rolled up 1,062 yards and a 6.9-yard average. Also back are his backups, Ish Witter and Nate Strong, although Witter struggles against SEC competition and Strong needs to take a step forward. The questions here are whether Crockett was for real or a one-hit wonder, and whether Witter and Strong can step things up.
At the very least, Crockett was good enough to keep defenses from bearing down on QB Drew Lock with impunity, and Lock responded with a productive year. But despite the 3,399 yards passing and 23 touchdowns, Lock wasn’t a difference-maker in the sense that he could put the whole team on his back. He has to develop into that guy, and soon. There is no experience behind him should be be injured, though. At least he’ll have a talented group of receivers to throw to, especially 1,000-yard split end J’Mon Moore. Missouri continues to be able to find big, fast and physical receivers to fill out this group, and all three starters from a year ago return, along with an intriguing cast of backups. Kendall Blanton and Jason Reese must step up at tight end, but both players have bright futures.
The offensive line returns a lot of experience – five starters and two veteran backups – but it remains to be seen whether this group can duplicate its performance of a year ago. Missouri more or less fashioned a starting line out of spare parts and young players, but the Tigers won’t sneak up on anyone this fall. Offensively, Missouri is probably as good as any mid-tier team in the SEC, but consistency was an issue for all of 2016.
Defensive/ST breakdown: It’s hard to imagine things getting worse for a team that finished 112th against the run and 86th against the pass, but it’s happening. Missouri’s front six (the Tigers use a 4-2-5 as a base) has only one starter returning, and another projected starter, DE Nate Howard, is suspended and was recently accused of missing court for the incident that led to his suspension. Missouri has several players with good size, and tackle Terry Beckner Jr. and end Marcell Frazier both are expected to be solid players. But the production simply wasn’t there a year ago. Missouri also took a step back in athleticism at the linebacker position and will take another step back this year; Eric Beisel and Brandon Lee are borderline talents and the light still hasn’t come on for Terez Hall.
The secondary has its own problems. Safeties Thomas Wilson and Anthony Sherrils return, but both had been unseated from their starting jobs in the spring. Kansas State transfer Kaleb Prewett probably has the most upside among the safeties and is expected to start at the nickel position. Long-term? It’s probably CB DeMarkus Acy, who has impressive length and speed, who will get the most attention. For right now, though, corner depth is thin, and the safety rotation in flux.
A big improvement is expected from both kicker Tucker McCann and punter Corey Fatony. Missouri usually finds ways to be passable on special teams, but it takes some faith to say that about 2017 at this point. The biggest weapon will be ace kick returner Johnathon Johnson, one of the best in the conference at what he does.
Overall Trend: Down. Missouri still doesn’t know what it has in Odom, who despite being a respected defensive coordinator, saw the first defense of his head coaching tenure turn up a failure. Missouri at least finished on a high note, winning two of its last three games over bowl teams Vanderbilt and rival Arkansas. That’s not going to be good enough going forward, however, and school leadership – characterized as weak in both its handling of the team protest two years ago and by allowing the players to essentially pick Pinkel’s successor – may not have much patience if the Tigers continue to regress on the field.
Proceed to 2017 South Carolina Preview