Missouri opened the Barry Odom era with a 26-11 loss Saturday at West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va.
The Tigers didn’t make enough plays to win on offense, defense or special teams.
The Mountaineers, in fact, were superior in all three phases of the game, but that doesn’t mean the game was without bright spots.
Here’s a look at what we learned:
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1. Dominant defense?
The personnel isn’t much different than last season. Defensive end Walter Brady was dismissed and there defensive starters — linebacker Kentrell Brothers, free safety Ian Simon and cornerback Kenya Dennis — graduated from the 2015 team.
Still, that doesn’t explain Mizzou’s worst defensive performance since 2014. West Virginia deployed a smart passing game, using quick throws to the outside that neutralized the pass rush, and controlled the middle with the ground game, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and racking up 241 rushing yards.
Only Tennessee (248) topped that total last season, so it’s alarming. Tigers players, including senior defensive tackle Rickey Hatley and senior cornerback Aarion Penton, chalked it up to poor gap integrity and missed tackles. Those are things that can be addressed through film study and reps on the practice field to make sure defenders are in the right spots (control your gap) and don’t overrun plays (give cutbacks lanes and whiff on tackles).
Based on the opening-game results, it seems unlikely Missouri will have one of the nation’s elite defenses again, ranking top six or better in almost every category, but it’s far too early to write off a group with a solid track record either.
2. Flyin’ Tigers
Missouri ran 100 plays against West Virginia. That’s an obscene number — more than any game quarterbacked by Chase Daniel — and, though it didn’t produce a lot of points, it demonstrates the high-velocity approach new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel intends to take.
Did it work? The offense averaged 4.62 yards per play. Last season, the Tigers’ offense only topped that number against Southeast Missouri, Kentucky and BYU. Against a big-time opponent like West Virginia, which has played in a bowl 13 of the last 14 seasons, that’s a good sign. It’s better than Mizzou did in any game against an SEC team with Drew Lock as the starting quarterback a year ago and it happened on the road. That has to be encouraging. It’s far from the track meet Heupel would like to see, but it’s an improvement.
3. Bedeviling special teams
Whether it was missed field goals, three punts of 26 yards or less, the continued inability to shift field position in the return game and a tendency to allow lengthy return on kickoffs, there was very little special about Missouri’s special teams.
Sophomore punter Corey Fatony also unleashed several kicks or close to 50 yards, including a game-high 50-yard boot after the game’s opening series. He also put three punts inside the Mountaineers’ 20-yard line.
Beyond that, the Tigers continue to do itself few favors in the kicking game.