Missouri wasn’t good enough to beat West Virginia on Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.
That’s the simplest way to explain a 26-11 loss in front of 60,125 during the opening game of the Barry Odom era.
The Tigers’ vaunted defense — a unit that ranked in the top six nationally in scoring defense, total defense and passing defense last season — allowed six scoring drives, all of at least 60 yards.
An offense that ranked near the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision last season blipped its heart monitor, but Mizzou, 0-1, still had trouble converting those flashes into points during an uneven debut under new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel.
It added up to the Tigers’ first season-opening loss since 2001, a 20-13 defeat at home against Bowling Green in Gary Pinkel’s MU debut.
If Odom goes on to the kind of success Pinkel had, there are bound to be better days.
“You’re never, ever, ever going to get me down,” Odom said. “That’s the mind-set our football team has. There’s a winner and a loser in everything we do in life, and we ended up on the short end today. … We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’m excited to go back to work.”
Despite only scoring 11 points, the Tigers’ offense provided reason for optimism.
Led by sophomore quarterback Drew Lock, Missouri totaled 462 yards, the most since a November 2014 win at Texas A&M.
Lock completed 23 of 51 passes for 280 yards, which were all career-highs, and only allowed one sack. He also added nine carries for 29 yards and appeared unfazed when receivers struggled with drops.
“Drew looked more comfortable today than he had in the past and I still think he’s got a tremendous future,” Odom said.
Lock, a Lee’s Summit graduate, even finished on a high note, connecting with senior Chris Black on an 8-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter and adding a two-point conversion to junior J’Mon Moore.
Meanwhile, backup quarterback Marvin Zanders saw regular action and provided a spark with seven carries for 47 yards.
“We designed some things running-game-wise for (Zanders) today specifically, but he’s shown the ability to run the offense and call the same plays if Drew’s in there or Marvin,” Odom said.
Black finished with six catches for 102 yards, and Moore led Mizzou with eight catches for 104 yards, marking the first time two Tigers topped 100 yards in the same game since Marcus Lucas and Dorial Green-Beckham in September 2013.
“There’s a lot more” the offense can do, Black said. “That’s why I said there’s no reason to be down We’ll just build on today. Towards the end, we kind of had a confidence-builder. We know what we can be. We do it every day in practice.”
Perhaps that explains why West Virginia gouged Mizzou’s defense for 494 yards, the most the Tigers have allowed since Alabama racked up 504 in the 2014 SEC Championship Game.
“We just didn’t make the plays,” MU senior defensive tackle Rickey Hatley said. “We missed a few tackles and they got some smart passes around the edges, but it’s simple stuff we can fix. … Every little thing that I saw was correctable things, probably some missed assignments and missed gaps or something like that.”
Only one team — Mississippi State, which racked up 430 yards in an early-November monsoon — rolled up as many as 369 yards in any game against the Tigers last season.
West Virginia piled up 241 yards on the ground and averaged 5.0 yards per carry, led by reigning national junior college player of the year Justin Crawford — a junior running back, who finished with 21 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Skyler Howard — who returned for the second half after getting an injection in his ailing ribs, Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said — went 23 of 35 for 253 yards and didn’t get sacked despite playing behind a line that was missing two starters for most of the game.
Starting left guard Adam Pankey was suspended and starting left tackle Yodny Cajuste left in the first half because of a knee injury.
“Starting out the game, and I felt it in the locker room a little bit, we were tight just emotionally a little bit,” Odom said. “I’ve got to do a better job as the head coach getting us past that point.”
Senior linebacker Michael Scherer finished with a game-high 10 tackles for his eighth career double-digit tackle game, while senior linebacker Donavin Newsom added eight tackles and junior strong safety Anthony Sherrils recorded seven.
Sherrils and senior cornerback Aarion Penton each had an interception, while junior defensive end Marcell Frazier recovered a fumble — though none of the turnovers resulted in points.
The sequence after Frazier pounced on a fumble by sophomore quarterback William Crest Jr., who entered the game briefly for Howard, proved pivotal.
The Tigers trailed 13-3, but it could have been worse, and the Mountaineers’ miscue put the ball at the West Virginia 7-yard line and a chance to seize the momentum entering halftime.
Instead, Mizzou was stuffed for no gain on first and second downs, Lock wasn’t able to connect with redshirt freshman Justin Smith on a third-down fade and freshman kicker Tucker McCann shanked a 24-yard field goal try.
West Virginia, 1-0, opened the second half with an eight-play, 70-yard touchdown march capped by Crawford’s 1-yard touchdown and an insurmountable 20-3 lead.
“I must not have given a very good speech at halftime, because we came out and played pretty poor,” Odom said. “They came out and executed. … I’ve thrown that speech out, and we won’t come back to it.”
West Virginia kicker Mike Molina was perfect on four field-goal attempts, all inside 33 yards, while McCann made one of two 24-yard tries and whiffed badly low and to the right on a 42-yard attempt.
Senior Rushel Shell’s 23-yard first-quarter scamper made it 10-0 early before a Damarea Crockett fumble early in the second quarter short-circuited a promising Mizzou drive.
West Virginia 26, Missouri 11
TableStyle: SP-byperiodsCCI Template: SP-byperiods
WVU: FG Molina 20, 05:44.
WVU: Shell 23 run (Molina kick), 01:43.
WVU: FG Molina 27, 09:36.
MU: FG McCann 25, 07:05.
WVU: J.Crawford 1 run (Molina kick), 12:38.
WVU: FG Molina 23, 03:09.
WVU: FG Molina 33, 07:26.
MU: Black 8 pass from Lock (J’.Moore pass from Lock), 01:50.
TableStyle: SP-footballstatsCCI Template: SP-footballstats
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Missouri, A.Ross 18-67, Zanders 7-47, Witter 10-32, Lock 9-29, Crockett 2-2, Augusta 1-1. West Virginia, J.Crawford 21-101, Shell 16-90, S.Howard 7-35, Wellman 3-22, S.Gibson 1-0, Crest 1-(minus 7).
PASSING: Missouri, Lock 23-51-0-280, Zanders 1-2-0-2. West Virginia, S.Howard 23-35-1-253, C.Chugunov 0-2-1-0.
RECEIVING: Missouri, J’.Moore 8-104, Black 6-102, Culkin 2-27, E.Hall 2-8, Collins 1-22, Mason 1-7, Johnson 1-6, A.Ross 1-3, Dilosa 1-2, Wingo 1-1. West Virginia, Shorts 8-131, S.Gibson 5-39, J.Crawford 5-9, Ka.White 2-32, Shell 1-22, Mathis 1-20.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: Missouri, McCann 25, McCann 43.