University of Missouri

After opening loss to Wyoming, Mizzou’s defense is big reason for five-game win streak

The final score of No. 22 Missouri’s 38-27 win over Ole Miss last week was an anomaly in one aspect.

Missouri allowed its second-most points, following only the team’s season-opening 37-31 loss at Wyoming. Excluding those two, the Tigers have allowed just 7.75 points per game.

But even including those games, Missouri’s allows 15.83 points per game, 11th best in the nation. It’s just one of several stats — No. 4 in passing yards allowed per game, No. 6 in total yards allowed per game, No. 8 in first downs allowed — that puts the Tigers defense in an elite category this season.

Missouri coach Barry Odom, whose teams have dealt with defensive issues in seasons past, attributed this year’s success to experience in the scheme, but noted there’s been more variety in what the Tigers are doing on defense.

“We’re also doing a lot of things this year that we didn’t do last year, just schematically,” Odom said. “Our guys have been great learners, but our staff has done a great job on teaching.”

Coming into the season, Missouri touted a new look on the defense, a 4-2-5 scheme, which leaves more defensive backs on the field. That has helped with the turnover margin.

Missouri (5-1, 2-0 SEC) has interceptions in four of six games and has two multi-interception games, including a three interception performance against West Virginia in Week 2.

Odom said success with turnovers has increased confidence in the team’s defense.

“They’ve worked really hard to build the trust within each other and the belief that it’s going to work,” Odom said. “When you play with confidence and you play fast, when you’re able to cut loose and go play.”

Being on the road

Odom said discussion of Missouri’s Week 1 loss began as early as the following day, and the team made clear the game wouldn’t define them.

That seems to be the case, as the Tigers haven’t lost since, but for the first time since the loss, Missouri will go on the road for Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt. Odom said the team will take an “elementary” approach to travel and treat it like the first game of the year, reminding players of travel tips.

“Once we get to the hotel in Nashville, we’re locked in just like it’s a home game for us,” Odom said.

To this point in his head coaching career, Odom is 6-10 on the road, but — since joining the SEC — the Tigers are 5-2 against the Commodores. They’re also 7-3-1 all-time.

Special teams update

The Ole Miss win was wonky for Missouri in regards to special teams play.

Johnathon Johnson, who had his best game yet offensively, muffed the first punt of the game and gave the ball back to Ole Miss and — after being replaced on punt return — misinterpreted a kick-off return. Thinking he was calling for a fair catch, he down the ball within Missouri’s own 5-yard line.

Odom said Tuesday that the muffed punt was “not good,” but didn’t give much blame to Johnson on the mismanaged kickoff.

“He thought he made a fair catch and he wasn’t clear on what the rule was, so that’s our fault,” Odom said.

Looking at the return team for Nashville, freshman Cade Musser will likely be back for Missouri on punts — he had one return for nine yards Saturday — but Odom noted that Richaud Floyd looks like he’s capable of playing this week.

“We’ll kind of see how he responds tomorrow after having some activity today,” Odom said of Floyd. “I would say it looks pretty promising.”

Floyd was listed as the alternate punt returner on this week’s depth chart despite going down with an injury in Missouri’s win over Troy two weeks ago. So far this season, Floyd has 11 punt returns for 182 yards and a touchdown.

Odom also touched on kicker and punter Tucker McCann, who went 2-for-4 on extra points last weekend, noting that McCann told him the follow through of the first kick “was short” and that the efficiency of the snap and hold of the second kick wasn’t what it needed to be.

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