ATHENS — For the past four years, Dave Matter has handled the Opposing View for DawgNation when Georgia was getting ready to play the Missouri Tigers. We’d heard from Matter so often it started to feel like we had St. Louis-based staff writer.
So we’re shaking up this year. Allow me to introduce you to Daniel Jones, the Tigers’ beat writer for the school’s local paper, the Columbia Daily Tribune. Jones has worked there since 2015 and previously covered the Missouri men’s basketball team. He’ll be making his first visit to Sanford Stadium this Saturday.
I asked Jones about what he was expecting to experience on Saturday. He said as a Kansas City native, he’s quite familiar with being in a football stadium full of red. How ’bout them Chiefs, by the way.
Anyway, you can read Jones writes a great blog on Mizzou football called “Behind The Stripes” for the Daily Tribune. You can read all his work at columbiatribune.com and follow him on Twitter at @daniel_m_jones.
Now for the questions I sent Jones’ way:
1. Might as well start off with the toughest one. Obviously things haven’t gone well for coach Barry Odom so far. How much trouble to believe he’s actually in as far as job security?
Jones: Things could obviously be going better, but it’s hard to say in the middle of the season. The team was expected to build on a 5-7 finish last year, especially with 10 starters returning on offense, but things look like they’ve gotten worse instead. It hasn’t helped that Missouri has a back-loaded schedule, so the games will continue to get tougher as the season wears on. The loss to Purdue was a disaster and really stirred up a lot of doubt. I think that game caused people to wonder about the direction of the program.
Missouri was totally over-matched against Auburn, but it looked better against Kentucky, which was its first away game of the season and Drew Lock’s best game ever against an SEC opponent. It still wasn’t enough, but that was the kind of team a lot of people expected Missouri to be this season.
Athletic director Jim Sterk isn’t trigger-happy, and there’s a good chance that — barring a season full of utter collapses or off-the-field issues — Odom will get a third year.
2. Let’s talk about that defense. I was surprised when I looked at the stats this week and saw the Tigers were giving up 40 and 459 per game. What’s the main problem there?
Jones: It’s a unit that has glaring deficiencies and spends a lot of time on the field. Tackling has been a problem since last season, which has resulted in a lot of opponent big plays through the air and on the ground. The secondary also has serious issues. Missouri hasn’t been set at safety since 2015. Strong safety Anthony Sherrils was starting to emerge as a more reliable tackler through the first four games, but concussion-like symptoms kept him out last week. They’ve rotated multiple guys in at free safety and had freshman Jordan Ulmer as the opening day starter. The cornerbacks, DeMarkus Acy and Logan Cheadle, have been inconsistent, and the defensive line hasn’t generated pressure like in years past. On top of all that, Missouri is last in the nation in time of possession at 21:59 per game, which means its defense is out on the field almost 60 percent of the time.
3. I was watching the Kentucky game Saturday night and couldn’t believe the clock stuff that happened at the end there. I guess refs didn’t see the UK kid knock the ball away but you’d think that’d be a delay of game penalty. What’s been Mizzou’s reaction and do you think this will result in rule changes?
Jones: Everybody knew it wasn’t handled correctly from the outset. Odom kept his cool, but his comments after the game said it all: “I know what I saw.” J’Mon Moore, the receiver on the play, was adamant that a Kentucky player deliberately swatted the ball out of his hands while he was trying to return it to the ref, and the video (especially in slow motion) backs it up. For what it’s worth, which is peanuts, the SEC made a statement about it Sunday afternoon that the officials didn’t see the swat and the clock should have been stopped. I’m not sure it’s the type of thing that would necessitate a rule change, though. The rule was in place already but wasn’t enforced in the right situation.
4. The Tigers’ offense seems potent as usual. How do you view that matchup with UGA’s top-rated defense and do you see Mizzou being able to exploit Georgia’s secondary?
Jones: It’s been an explosive but inconsistent offense. Missouri averaged 10 points in three games (South Carolina, Purdue, Auburn) before scoring 34 on Kentucky. Lock looked good against the Wildcats, but there are still questions about his ability to be a steady quarterback against SEC opponents. You’ll probably remember when the Bulldogs came to Columbia last year, Lock threw three touchdowns in the first 33 minutes and three interceptions in the last 27. He’s got a great deep ball and can sling it through some really tight windows, but he doesn’t always make the best decisions. The receivers, which a lot of people saw as a strength going into the season, have had real problems catching the ball consistently. It doesn’t look like running back Damarea Crockett has really hit his full potential this season, either. Lock can chuck some home-run balls, but he hasn’t seen a defense like Georgia’s yet this year. It could be a struggle.
5. What’s your thoughts about Mizzou’s experience so far as a member of the SEC and do you think it’s been a good fit?
Jones: Honestly, it’s probably the best decision Missouri athletics has ever made. The school is raking in way more revenue in the SEC than it ever would have in the Big 12, and that means more exposure, better facilities and ultimately a more competitive athletic program. Football and men’s basketball have had a rough couple years, but Missouri’s non-revenue sports have been very solid since joining the league. Basketball is already bouncing back and should continue to be competitive in the conference. I don’t see the football team ever being a powerhouse in the SEC, but it’s not a perennial bottom-feeder. It has the resources and the support to recover and be competitive in the long-term, if not the immediate short-term. The fit will probably never be the same as it was in the Big 12. Missouri still feels like a guest in the SEC’s home. But it was the right decision then and will continue to be because of what it’s done for the school and the athletic program.
I’d be shocked if Missouri keeps this competitive. A 30-point line seems about right. It’s tough timing for the Tigers, which looked like they might finally be heading in the right direction against Kentucky but now get a buzzsaw in Athens. I’d say 45-10, Georgia. Probably best the Bulldogs don’t get wind of that rat poison, though.