Once Gary Pinkel got his program rolling in his third season, 2004, he had unparalleled success at Mizzou.
In his last thirteen years, Pinkel amassed five double-digit win seasons, and had three more of at least eight wins. In four years, the Tigers played for their conference championship, twice in the Big XII, and twice in the Southeastern conference.
Even though he rarely had top 25 recruiting classes, Pinkel finished in the top 25 in the AP poll five times, a third of the time he was the coach. And the reason for that was his ability to get Mizzou to limit mistakes. Winning the turnover battle and the special teams wars and keeping penalties to a minimum were tenets of the Pinkel program, so that if there was a small margin for error, his team would win that key phase of the game.
So far in Barry Odom’s tenure, the Tigers haven’t consistently been able to play clean football or win the turnover battle. That was never more evident than on Saturday night in a home game against South Carolina. Let’s review the bidding of how the Tigers lost.
Mistake One: After Mizzou took a 10-0 lead on Drew Lock’s 61-yard touchdown pass to Jason Reese, South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel returned the ensuing touchdown 97 yards for a touchdown.
Mistake Two: Mizzou got the ball back after South Carolina’s kickoff, but Lock was intercepted by Jamyest Williams on the first play. Samuel rambled 25 yards for the score that gave South Carolina the lead for good on the very NEXT play. In a matter of four plays, Mizzou went from leading 10-0 to down 14-10 because of a special teams meltdown and a turnover.
Mistake Three: With 1:12 left in the first half, Tucker McCann had a chance to cut the Gamecock lead to one, but his field goal was blocked.
Mistake Four: Down 24-13 early in the fourth quarter, the Mizzou defense held South Carolina on 3rd and 8 at the Gamecock 22. South Carolina punted, but a Mizzou blocker was manhandled and thrown into return man Jonathan Johnson. The ball went off Johnson’s foot, and South Carolina recovered before moving 44 yards in seven plays for a dagger touchdown.
Mistake Five: Down 31-13 with 9:34 to go, Lock was intercepted again, at midfield.
At the end of the game, South Carolina had scored four touchdowns. Their offense had to travel a total of 69 yards for three of those because of Mizzou mistakes. The Tigers committed three turnovers and didn’t take the ball away once. Mizzou negated their yardage advantage of 423 yards to 359 with the turnovers, special teams mistakes, and red zone failures. Mizzou ran ten plays in the red zone and was able to score three points off of those three possessions deep into South Carolina territory.
There were a couple of penalties in the first half, both pass interference penalties against DeMarkus Acy on apparent stops on 3rd down, that allowed South Carolina to keep drives going. Fortunately for the Tigers, the Gamecocks missed a field goal on the first one, and wound up punting after Acy’s second penalty. Mizzou escaped those.
Last year, Mizzou was a minus-4 in turnover ratio and committed eleven more penalties than their opponents. This year, they’re already minus-3 and have committed ten penalties in two games.
Odom and his staff simply don’t have overwhelming talent. If they win, they’re going to have to win close games that are cleanly played.
They had a chance to steal a close conference win on Saturday at home, and couldn’t do the little things that allowed Pinkel to become the winningest coach in Missouri history.
Mike Martz used to say, “shoot, we’ll fix that.” Jeff Fisher said, “we’ll clean that up.” Whatever it is, Odom and his staff need to do it…fix it, clean it up, polish it. Make it better. Mizzou isn’t good enough to give away plays, because that’s what causes teams to give away games. South Carolina and Georgia are already both 2-0, and Florida is going to be formidable. And Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt have enough talent to beat Missouri.
The Tigers need to start winning the turnover, special teams and penalty battles, or they will be doomed to another four win season, at best, against the SEC East.