COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Missouri coach Barry Odom was on everyone’s hot seat list when the Tigers dropped to 1-5 in October.
Rather than wallow in his own potential firing, Odom set fire to scouting reports, game plans, stat sheets and other remnants of the first half of the season at a team meeting after a 53-28 loss to Georgia on Oct. 14.
”He got the lighter fluid, and I was like, `Oh, snap, this dude’s serious,”’ wide receiver Emanuel Hall said. ”We said, `Forget about the last six. We have six more.”’
Two months later, the Tigers point to Odom’s bonfire as the turning point in the season. Missouri (7-5) ripped off six consecutive victories after the team meeting, earning a matchup with Texas (6-6) in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27 in Houston. Missouri has averaged 51.3 points per game during the streak.
”Anything in life worth having, it’s not easy and it’s not going to be handed to you,” Odom said. ”Our guys did an unbelievable job of staying together.”
The Tigers won by at least 28 points against Idaho, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt before edging Arkansas 48-45 to cap the season. Their offensive dominance was spearheaded by quarterback Drew Lock, whose 43 passing touchdowns set the single-season Southeastern Conference record.
Lock’s critics often cited the disparity between his performances against nonconference opponents and SEC teams. After Missouri lost to South Carolina on Sept. 9, Lock had thrown for just 13 touchdowns and 18 interceptions against SEC teams in his career. In nonconference games, he had thrown for 22 touchdowns and three interceptions.
The junior quarterback flipped that script in his final four games, throwing for 15 touchdowns and four interceptions against SEC teams.
”It’s helped, but the numbers didn’t really boost my confidence,” Lock said. ”I think it was the guys around me. Once all of us really honed in and knew our jobs, that made everybody else really comfortable.”
Lock benefited from an offensive line that allowed just 12 sacks all season, sixth-best among FBS teams. The line found its groove during a three-game stretch against Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, allowing just one sack.
The also line powered Missouri’s two-man rushing attack of Ish Witter and Larry Rountree lll, a freshman who took over after Damarea Crockett hurt a shoulder against Georgia. In the last six games, the duo rushed for more than six yards per carry and scored 10 touchdowns.
”One of the things we lacked at the beginning of the season was the maturity,” offensive lineman Paul Adams said. ”We wanted to flip that switch on. I think it flipped in time for us, and we did really well.”
The Tigers became the offensive juggernaut in the second half of the season that they had aspired to be before the season began. Missouri started slowly, posting just 13 points against South Carolina, 14 against Auburn and three points against Purdue. As each facet of the game improved, so did the players’ trust of Odom, who was given a two-year contract extension through the 2022 season this month.
”When we were 1-5, he got us together and told us straight up forward how things were looking for him,” tight end Albert Okwuegbunam said. ”Not a lot of people even wanted him to be our head coach, but he said he’s never going to give up on us. He stayed true to his word, so it ultimately gave us a huge amount of respect for him.”
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