University of Missouri

Missouri football trying to set different tone ahead of this year’s spring game

Barry Odom (center) is preparing for his second season as head football coach of the Missouri Tigers.
Barry Odom (center) is preparing for his second season as head football coach of the Missouri Tigers.

The angst that comes with the thoughts of last year’s 4-8 Missouri football season is almost unbearable for, quite ironically, MU freshman Tanner Angst.

A native of Lebanon, Mo., the 19-year-old Angst has attended every home game since 2011. He admits last year was tough, given that it was his first years watching games as a Missouri student. But he also confessed his optimism for the 2017-18 season at Thursday’s spring practice that was open to students.

He’s not alone.

With just over a week until the 2017 spring game, second-year Missouri coach Barry Odom said after Thursday’s practice that this year has felt different. Speaking just minutes later underneath the sun at Memorial Stadium, defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross elaborated on that notion.

“What I like from our team and not just defense — I think these guys are really bonding,” Cross said. “I don’t know if we were bonded as much as we needed to be to be a competitive team and to be a bowl-type team (last year).”

What makes Cross confident that can happen? Inferences welcome.

“Chemistry,” he said. “It works wonders. When you have guys that are on the same page and nobody is really worried about who gets the accolades, I think that’s the making of something special.

“Right now, we’ve got a group of guys that are all happy to be part of something. Nobody is really complaining or worrying about the scheme or about their opportunities to do things and from that standpoint, it’s been refreshing.”

The buzzword was indeed used: “Scheme.”

Early in the 2016-17 season, that became much of the narrative as the defensive line shifted towards a more read-and-react strategy under former defensive-line coach Jackie Shipp, who was fired in November due to what Odom called an “internal matter where his conduct didn’t meet our expectations for coaches,” relative to what the line had under now Miami defensive-line coach Craig Kuligowski a year prior.

Angst enjoyed watching the defensive line practice from the first bleacher on Thursday. He relished the intensity he saw in first-year defensive-line coach Brick Haley, who came to Missouri from Texas, and Angst hopes the defense can improve its play from last year.

Thus far, Cross said the defensive lineman have bought into what Haley brings because “he’s teaching them family.”

“They believe in him, they believe what he stands for, and that’s half of it,” Cross said. “They just have to know that somebody has their back.”

It was freshman running back Damarea Crockett that impressed Angst most on Thursday.

Angst hopes to see improvement from the Little Rock, Ark., native in Crockett who set Missouri freshman records for rushing yards in a season (1,062), rushing yards in a single game (225 against Tennessee) and rushing touchdowns in a season (10).

Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel would be fine with improvement on such numbers from Crockett as well. As was the case for both Odom and Cross, “different” was a theme for Heupel on Thursday.

“Guys understand the expectations, they understand how you’re going to operate on a daily basis and there’s a great energy inside our meeting room,” Heupel said, and then expanded on how a year has helped him, specifically.

“You have a great understanding of your personnel, you understand the league a little bit better having gone through it, so you understand the issues you’re going to have and maybe foresee some of things you need to do to handle some of those situations,” Heupel said.

The Tigers will take the field for the spring game on April 15. Heupel smiled hearing that, as did Angst.

And you best believe Angst will be in attendance for the seventh straight year.

Injury report

Redshirt freshman tight end Albert Okwuegbunam again wore a non-contact jersey Thursday. He is still nursing a minor hamstring injury.

Missouri redshirt-freshman wide receiver Johnathon Johnson is also dealing with a hamstring injury.

Missouri Black & Gold Game

When: April 15, 1 p.m.

Where: Memorial Stadium in Columbia