Missouri’s football schedules for the next two seasons are already set, but when the Tigers do have an opening again, coach Barry Odom has a school he’d like to play.
The Jayhawks are one of the worst teams in the country, but Odom’s hopes of restarting the Mizzou-Kansas football game has more to do with the energy he sensed in reading about Sunday’s exhibition basketball game between the two schools at the Sprint Center. The proceeds from the Showdown for Relief went to hurricane victims through several charities.
“There’s a lot of people that lose sight on the opportunity we have to provide student-athletes with great experiences,” Odom said Monday. “That’s going to be one for those guys that got to participate in that yesterday. It was unbelievable event that they’re going to remember forever. Maybe even more important than that, that money raised is going to help people that really are in need. … That’s the great thing about sports. That’s the great thing about us having the ability and platform to do that.”
A linebacker for Mizzou from 1996-99, Odom showed he still has some healthy resentment for the Kansas, a team he did not name. As a player, he went 2-2 against the Jayhawks.
“They’re not asking me, but Missouri and the other team should play every year in every sport because it’s pretty awesome,” Odom said. “Maybe we can continue that. I was excited and happy for Mizzou and all the people who benefited from that.”
He has more immediate concerns, though. Odom said the team’s leading rusher, sophomore Damarea Crockett, had a scope of his right shoulder and “might be able to make it back later on in this season.”
“But we’ve also got to make sure that we prepare like he’s not going to be available,” Odom said.
Crockett didn’t play in the Tigers’ win Saturday over Idaho, and if his season is over, he will finish with 481 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in six games. As a freshman, Crockett ran for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns. Odom indicated that he would not hurry Crockett back from injury.
“We looked at that position what’s best for the kid, what’s best for him long term,” Odom said. “… I look at it like it’s my own kid. In that position, it’d be very difficult to go carry the load like he needs to.”
Senior Ish Witter and true freshman Larry Rountree will be Missouri’s primary running backs. Redshirt freshman Dawson Downing, a Bishop Miege grad from Mission, will be the Tigers’ third running back.
Rountree and Witter have combined for 574 yards rushing on 108 carries, and Rountree is coming off his best game of the season. He ran for 97 yards on 12 carries, including one physical run that went for 53 yards. The freshman dropped his shoulder into one Idaho defender and stiff armed another.
“I don’t think he’s going to run out of bounds,” Odom said of Rountree’s running style. “He’s got to understand also once he starts carrying the ball 20-plus times a game that may change a little bit.”
‘Tremendous respect’ for AAC
Missouri will play at Connecticut for the first time in program history this weekend, but Odom has more familiarity with the Huskies and their conference.
An assistant coach at Memphis from 2012-14, Odom said he views the American Athletic Conference, which both Memphis and Connecticut play in, as a Power Five league. The American has three ranked teams: No. 17 South Florida, No. 18 Central Florida and No. 24 Memphis.
“I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for the conference that they’re in,” Odom said.
More third down changes coming
A week after Georgia converted on 13 of 18 third downs against Missouri, Odom said his coaches introduced “a lot” of new schemes to the Tigers’ third-down defense against Idaho and only got through about a quarter of it. That included using junior Cam Hilton as a nickel back on third down, and he had a sack against Idaho.
As a freshman, Hilton played wide receiver for the Tigers, and he was a safety last season. For most of this season, he was a non factor for Mizzou.
“There’s a lot that went into that,” Odom said when asked why Hilton had barely played in recent weeks. “I think he’s grown and matured a whole lot the last month. … He’s starting to play with the speed and confidence that you need to play at that spot. The things we’re asking him to do — he can be a game changer for us in the playmaking ability for us in a lot of different roles. I’m proud of his effort last week, and we need another great effort from him.”
Even after playing better defensively against Idaho, Missouri ranks 127th in the country in opponent third-down conversion rate at 50.43 percent. Idaho converted six of 17 third downs.
Odom said he “finally felt comfortable” with the changes to third down defense his staff had tried to implement over the past two weeks, and there will be more to come.
“We had a whole other column of things we didn’t get to,” Odom said.