Missouri’s football season began 1-5 before including a six-game winning streak. So it is appropriate that such a down-then-up season ended with a Texas Bowl loss in which the Texas Longhorns’ punter, Michael Dickson, won MVP.
Coach Barry Odom still must hire an offensive coordinator — a move that isn’t expected until next week at the earliest — and that hire should impact whether quarterback Drew Lock relinquishes his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft.
But for now let’s look back at the season that just ended. Here are some closing thoughts from Mizzou’s wacky 7-6 season.
Drew Lock will be a Heisman contender if he comes back
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Lock, from Lee’s Summit, could be the No. 1 pick the 2019 NFL Draft, too.
That might sound crazy, but it’s not. The NFL Draft advisory board told Lock to come back to school for his senior year because it doesn’t believe he will be a first- or second-round pick, and part of the reason why is because this year’s quarterback class is deep.
The quarterbacks who are supposed to go ahead of Lock in this draft were already established names coming into this season. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson won the Heisman last season, and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield won it this season. There’s also UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Southern California’s Sam Darnold, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Wyoming’s Josh Allen. Lock might be the headliner of next year’s college quarterback crop.
Though his Texas Bowl performance was mediocre, Lock was far more consistent this season than in his prior two. He’s had a strong arm since he was in high school, but he showed more accuracy on his deep balls this year.
He said the draft advisory board wants him to improve his intermediate throws, and maybe Mizzou’s next offensive coordinator will feature more opportunities for him to do so.
Ish Witter ran for more than 1,000 yards this season and 2,000 yards for his career
If you’ve followed Mizzou football the past few seasons, you understand how impressive — and maybe surprising — this is.
The team generously lists Witter at 5 feet 10 and 200 pounds. During the past few seasons, he had a knack for running into defenders and practically tackling himself. But he’s a large reason why Mizzou’s offense put up at least 45 points during each of the final six regular-season games. Sophomore Damarea Crockett, who was supposed to be Mizzou’s lead running back, missed all of those games because of a right shoulder injury.
Witter, still not fast enough to outrun some defenders when he broke past the first set of tacklers, made men miss occasionally this year. He finished with 1,049 rushing yards for the season and 2,418 career rushing yards, which ranks ninth in program history. He was also one of Odom’s greatest leaders during a season that required them.
Larry Rountree was great, too
Speaking of running backs, Mizzou received strong contributions on the ground from a true freshman for a second consecutive season.
A year after Crockett ran for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman, Rountree averaged 5.58 yards per carry and finished with 703 yards on the ground.
With Crockett, Rountree and the entirety of Mizzou’s very good offensive line returning next season, the Tigers should again have a strong rushing attack.
Missouri’s secondary never quite figured out its problems
The Tigers started freshman Adam Sparks and sophomore DeMarkus Acy at cornerback this season, and some of their struggles might have been because of inexperience, but the secondary was always the Mizzou defense’s weak spot. Even during the six-game winning streak that saved the season, the Tigers’ secondary gave up 300-plus passing yards to Vanderbilt and Arkansas — although they also intercepted those teams four times combined.
The Longhorns didn’t win the Texas Bowl with their passing, but a Texas team that couldn’t pick a quarterback all season was relatively efficient with two. UT completed 17 of 29 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Mizzou didn’t pick off a pass.
For the season, Mizzou finished next to last in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game (254.5), 11th in yards allowed per attempt (7.5) and 12th in completion percentage (59.6).
Sparks, who had interceptions in the final two games of the regular season, had good moments this season. Only one starting defensive back, strong safety Anthony Sherrils, won’t return next year. The other safety, junior Kaleb Prewett, a transfer from Kansas State, played better in the latter half of the season, once he moved into the secondary after playing linebacker.
Tucker McCann is now the kicker Missouri thought it was getting
As a freshman, McCann made 6 of 12 field goals, and Mizzou couldn’t even be certain he would convert extra points. This year, he made 15 of 17 field goals and his last miss came against Kentucky on Oct. 7.
He also converted 51 of 53 point after attempts. His longest made field goal this season was 43 yards.
A healthy Terry Beckner Jr. is fun to watch — and Missouri gets him again next season
The Tigers led the SEC with 103 tackles for loss, and Beckner had 11 of them, seven of which were sacks.
Nine of Beckner’s tackles for loss came after Mizzou’s first six games. Part of the reason is because A.J. Logan, a senior nose guard, returned from a suspension and freed up Beckner from blocks. But teammates said Beckner, a former No. 1 recruit in the country who has opted to return for his senior season, is still regaining confidence in his legs after ligament tears in each prematurely ended his freshman and sophomore seasons.
That’s a scary thought for offenses that will have to go up against Beckner next season, when defensive lineman Jordan Elliott, a transfer from Texas, gets to play alongside him.
When asked about Elliott after a bowl practice, Beckner said Elliott would impress next season. And if Elliott does, that could help Beckner do the same.