Well, maybe that NCAA bowl ban isn’t such a big deal now. Missouri…banned from post-season play by the NCAA because of academic improprieties…was hoping for a great season, a reversal by the NCAA, and participation in a great bowl game in 2020. After a mistake filled 37-31 loss to FCS foe Wyoming, Mizzou needs to look at fixing their own problems before hosting West Virginia next week.
For most football teams, three turnovers leading to ten points, a touchdown-nullifying penalty and allowing nearly 300 yards rushing will lead to defeat. And that was the case for Mizzou in a sloppy opener at Wyoming on Saturday night.
Unfortunately, this lack of discipline and propensity for big mistakes is a trend in Barry Odom openers. In his very first game, it was a pass interference penalty on a 3rd and 11 at West Virginia that gave the Mountaineers their first touchdown and the game’s momentum in a 28-11 win over the Tigers. In 2017, Mizzou allowed 43 points to a severely overmatched Missouri State team…a harbinger of a defense that would struggle for half the season in a 1-5 start. In last year’s SEC opener, Georgia scored touchdowns off a fumble return and a blocked punt and finished plus-2 in turnover margin in a game they won by two touchdowns.
This one hurt a little more because of the hype surrounding the 2019 team. With so many starters returning and Kelly Bryant arriving at quarterback from Clemson, many figured Mizzou had a chance to win their first seven or eight games. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas had them favored in their first eight. ESPN’s FPI was equally optimistic. They were an eighteen-point favorite over Wyoming and took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
After falling behind by those two touchdowns at the end of the first quarter, Wyoming outscored Mizzou 34-3 in the next two quarters…and that was too much for the Tigers to overcome.
Getting steamrolled would have been unacceptable. But GIVING the game away was unacceptable, too. Midway through the second quarter, a Bryant fumble along the sideline was recovered by Wyoming’s C.J. Coldon and returned thirty yards for a score. Then Mizzou was gashed for a 61-yard run by the Cowboys’ Xazavian Valladay. Mistakes happen on defense, but on Wyoming’s very next play from scrimmage their quarterback, Sean Chambers, rambled 75 yards for a touchdown that made it 24-17. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Mizzou suffered another self-inflicted wound just before halftime, when Tiger running back Larry Roundtree fumbled as he was going in for a touchdown. Alijah Halliburton returned the ball 79 yards and was brought down by a Bryant horse collar tackle, setting up a field goal with no time on the clock that made it 27-17.
There was more. On the opening drive of the second half, Bryant hit Albert Okwuegbunam for a two-yard score to draw Mizzou within 27-24. Alas, Albert O was called for offensive pass interference, and Bryant threw an interception into the end zone on the very next play. Wyoming subsequently went 80 yards in 11 plays to virtually put the game away with another touchdown.
This is disappointing because we had high hopes for a nine- or ten-win season for Mizzou, and now those sights need to be set lower, to eight or nine wins. But that’s what this program is…an eight- or nine-win program. They’ll lose games they shouldn’t lose (Middle Tennessee, Purdue and Kentucky at home) and win some they ordinarily won’t win (Florida each of the last two seasons). It is what it is, but what’s frustrating to me is that it could be better.
As hard as it is to get a team disciplined and ready to play a clean game in an opener, you must be good enough to beat those teams you’re supposed to beat. Mizzou is in the SEC; Wyoming is in the Mountain West. The Tigers dominated the first quarter and were dominated after that. It was Wyoming’s first win over a Power 5 conference school since 2007, and the Tiger loss was completely avoidable.
Now the Tigers have five in a row at home. And they need to win them all. And to do that, they need to clean up the turnovers and key penalties to avoid losing before they ever have a chance to win.