Help is coming for the Missouri defense.
First-year head coach Barry Odom was the architect of one of the Football Bowl Subdivision’s best defenses last season as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.
He relinquished control after his promotion by hiring former Mizzou teammate DeMontie Cross, who is the second-leading tackler in program history, as the new defensive coordinator.
Through seven games, the results have been frustrating.
Cross brought with him a new read-and-react scheme that relies heavily on Tigers defenders having a high IQ and consistently finding the proper gap on each snap.
It hasn’t happened and, even when it does, MU’s been prone to missed tackles.
The Tigers, who are 2-5 entering an 11 a.m. kickoff Saturday against Kentucky at Memorial Stadium, rank 87th nationally, allowing a 41.6 opponents’ third-down conversion rate, and check in 110th in total defense, allowing 460.4 yards per game.
Now, Odom is returning to his roots.
Odom said he was involved in defensive meetings Monday and aimed “to provide some help, as much as I can.”
“I’ve got an opportunity to go help that side out, and I’m going to go do it,” Odom said. “I’ve been trying to balance both sides along with some of the other things, but I need to spend my focus there.”
Cross isn’t threatened by his boss’s decision.
“I welcome that,” Cross said. “He was successful at what he was doing. I can’t do anything but welcome that. Not only does the defense need it, (but) I need it and the team needs it. We’re excited to have him back out there, involved and helping coach, helping us game plan and everything else. It’s good. It’s good to have him there, by all means.”
Fan angst has been through the roof over how Cross’s changes have affected the defensive line, which developed a reputation for wreaking havoc that earned the nickname “D-Line Zou” under former position coach Craig Kuligowski.
Kuligowski now is at Miami (Fla.), which leads FBS with 71 tackles for a loss this season, while Cross is searching for answers with a defense that ranks 117th in the country, averaging 4.43 tackles for loss per game.
Mizzou’s defense wasn’t great to start the season allowing 494 yards against West Virginia, 428 against Eastern Michigan and 409 against Georgia, but it seemed like there was progress.
That has stopped.
The Tigers were gashed for 418 yards on the ground at LSU and 634 overall and also have allowed more than 500 yards in losses at Florida (523) and versus Middle Tennessee (595) on homecoming.
“When you’re not playing well enough on one side of the ball, then as the head coach everything goes across my desk and I want to do everything I can to get it right … ,” Odom said. “We’ve got to call a cleaner game. We’ve got to execute. We’ve got to play better.”
How much can Odom help? The team’s belief is that his presence in the defensive meeting room certainly can’t hurt.
“We enjoyed coach Odom last year,” sophomore linebacker Brandon Lee said. “I love that guy and I’d do anything for him. I’ll put it like this, and a lot of guys would say it too, coach Odom could motivate them to do anything. He could motivate me to try to run through this wall if he asked me to. Him stepping in and helping a little bit will probably give us a spark.”
Count senior cornerback Aarion Penton among those who welcome more input from Odom.
“That would be very good,” Penton said. “We need to find a spark, and a win against Kentucky at home could be the start. Hopefully, we could get a winning streak going after that.”
Of course, the mountain Mizzou’s defense must climb grew taller after the Middle Tennessee game.
Senior linebacker Michael Scherer’s storied career with the Tigers came to an abrupt end when he suffered a season-ending torn ACL and MCL.
MU also lost sophomore defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. for an undetermined amount of time with a torn ACL against the Blue Raiders.