In a word, Missouri’s 21-14 loss at Vanderbilt was disgraceful. The Tigers had so much to play for. They went into Nashville with a five-game winning streak, were ranked 22nd in the Associated Press poll, and had a pretty straightforward (if not easy) path to winning the SEC East.
But Mizzou wasn’t ready to play. Wasn’t motivated. Wasn’t smart. Wasn’t disciplined. The Tigers had no heart, no clue, no leadership. Mizzou had no respect for Vanderbilt, and they paid for it by getting the arrogance slapped right out of them by a desperate opponent.
And that’s the thing that bugs me the most about this: how the hell can Missouri take any opponent lightly?
What, exactly, have the Tigers accomplished?
MU opened the season as an 18-point favorite at Wyoming and lost 37-31. They recovered during an easy-rider stretch of five consecutive home games –going 5-0 but beating only one decent team (South Carolina) along the CandyLand way.
But the five-game win streak had dopes like me thinking that the Tigers were legit, a team on the rise, and a program that deserved to be taken seriously.
The reality: fooled again.
Suckered in … again.
I say this as a Mizzou fan.
But not a media Mizzou fanboy … and there is a difference.
I fell for the hype. I perpetuated the hype by joining many in talking about the Tigers’ shot at capturing the SEC East. I was fairly restrained. At one point during MU’s 5-0 stretch I told a friend that I didn’t quite trust Barry Odom. And that I wanted to see how Mizzou would handle being back on the road after spending more than a month swaddled in the protection of a soft blanket at home. The Tigers’ 5-1 record was mostly made out of tissue paper and this team still had an awful lot to prove.
Missouri was a 21-point favorite at Vandy. Missouri went down to a palooka opponent without offering much resistance — and no honor — in one of the sorriest losses in program history.
This was surprising, yes.
But in retrospect, it shouldn’t have been quite so shocking. Because this fit into a pattern.
Under Coach Odom, Mizzou doesn’t handle the good times too well. The fellas have a tendency to get all big-headed and happy and manage to convince themselves that they’re Alabama.
Under Coach Odom, Mizzou is often timid on the road.
Odom has received substantial praise for pulling his teams over to the winning side and salvaging the 2017 and 2018 seasons after stumbling early in the schedule. And while I appreciated Odom’s work in getting his teams to stay engaged after being rocked by early-season adversity, that only accounts for so much.
In reality, the run of late-season victories in 2017 and 2018 came against deadweight-loser teams that had packed it in, were about to fire the coach, or had fired the coach.
In 2017 and 2018, combined, Mizzou went 8-0 in their late-season SEC games. But only one of those eight opponents, 2018 Florida, had a winning record. The other seven wins were against teams that had a hideous 10-47 mark in SEC games.
Sure, I gave Missouri a thumbs-up for winning games they should have won by taking advantage of another program’s turmoil. If the other side has already quit on the season, then go ahead and collect an easy win.
But I never deluded myself into thinking that there was anything particularly special about these triumphs over depressed, disillusioned opponents that already had surrendered.
There were exceptions, of course — the notable being last year’s sweet 38-17 blowout victory at Florida. But that day in The Swamp didn’t define the Mizzou program. It was, if anything, an outlier.
Moreover, the timing of the Florida game was fortunate for Mizzou; the week before the Gators had been pummeled by Georgia in the annual “Cocktail Party” game. That left Florida vulnerable to a letdown, and the Tigers pounced.
Here we go again …
Missouri on the road, favored by 18 at Wyoming. Favored by 21 at Vandy. And losing both games because of cockiness, an absence of focus, and an acute shortage of resolve. Mizzou cowered.
Odom’s road record in his three-plus seasons at Mizzou is 6-11 overall, and 4-9 in the SEC. Among SEC East teams, only Vandy (5-13) and Tennessee (2-12) have gotten drubbed more frequently than Mizzou in road games.
The Tigers, feasting on layers of cake at home, have largely been exposed as quintessential fake tough guys when playing outside of CoMo.
I don’t expect to see Mizzou play great on the road. It’s hard to win on the road.
It’s hard to win in the SEC, period.
But there’s no justification for the lame effort we witnessed Saturday; Mizzou physically got its arse kicked by a Vanderbilt team that had lost five games by an average of 24 points. A Vandy team that had been pushed around, and down, for 205 yards rushing by a 2-5 opponent (UNLV) the week before. A Vandy team that had just one win — by six points over Northern Illinois, a 2-5 juggernaut from the MAC — before Mizzou swaggered in.
Well, the Tigers staggered out of Nashville.
And the worst part of this was Missouri’s failure to compete with intensity and pride to save themselves from defeat. The Tigers were mentally weak.
Contrast that to Florida, which started slowly at South Carolina on Saturday, a week after losing a physically and emotionally draining game at LSU. Trailing by seven in the second half, the Gators coaches and team leaders rallied each other for a spree of 21 consecutive points in a 38-27 gut-check of a victory.
The Gators got it done despite missing two key defenders to ankle injuries — end Jabari Zuniga and linebacker Jonathan Greenard.
The Gators got done with quarterback Kyle Trask playing horribly in the first half. But Trask pulled it together and was instrumental in leading his team to a comeback.
It would have been nice to see Mizzou QB Kelly Bryant do the same for his team at Vandy. But Bryant was a liability who couldn’t fire up his team’s lazy offensive line. He got flustered and failed. And when this happens to your leader, then how do you think lesser players will react?
Georgia was at risk of losing a second straight game at home Saturday night against a lesser team (Kentucky.) The rain poured down in Athens the entire evening, all but wiping out the passing game, and the teams splashed and slipped to a 0-0 tie at the half. But Georgia — like Florida — summoned its competitive character and a champion’s heart to push through for a 21-0 victory.
Florida and Georgia may have been flawed in their strain-filled Saturdays. But they weren’t frauds. Unlike Missouri, the Gators and Bulldogs were willing to fight like crazy for their victories.
Mizzou will have to fight now; giving a damn isn’t optional. Fight hard for the wins that can lead to a positive finish. And fight hard to win back the credibility that was lost on Saturday night in Nashville.
Thanks for reading …