In Year Three under Barry Odom, Mizzou football is a living, breathing Rorschach test, more about perception and the eye of the beholder than any one truth.
While the view here is that Odom is moving this in the right direction, the most recent exercise in point was MU’s 43-29 loss to No. 2 Georgia on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Tigers were absolutely athletically competitive with the Bulldogs but ultimately let the game drizzle through their hands with blunders — including two that became non-offensive touchdowns that effectively flipped the game.
(Speaking of depends on your point of view, it didn’t help that it looked like Tucker McCann’s 41-yard field goal was good and that Georgia’s Jeremiah Holloman may have dropped the ball before he got in the end zone, but we digress …)
This was a shame, a wasted opportunity to fast-forward the program but not a ruinous loss and nothing an entirely feasible win two weeks from now at South Carolina won’t salve some. Just the same, it ended a nine-game regular-season winning streak, a skeptics’ delight built entirely against teams without winning records.
So maybe the most revealing quote of the day came from Odom when asked if he was frustrated or encouraged by the circumstances.
“Yes,” he said, “and yes.”
Which is about right. Frustrated or encouraged, the real measure of the season will be about much more than just this day.
Which brings us to how to process the part of the team being beheld the most, one who played to mixed results against Georgia: quarterback Drew Lock, whose audience included 15 NFL scouts on a day ripe for him to assert himself in earnest into the Heisman Trophy race.
This was the sort of moment Lock came back for instead of entering the 2018 NFL Draft.
And it was a tepid disappointment for the senior from Lee’s Summit who surely now would need some sort of seismic performance at Alabama next month to be a true Heisman contender (which no doubt is the least of his worries as the voracious team competitor he is).
The lingering stat line will show Lock completed just 23 of 48 passes, had multiple passes deflected at the line, fumbled twice and threw an interception. For the first time in almost exactly a year (last season’s 35-3 loss to Purdue), he failed to throw a touchdown pass ... against a team he threw four touchdowns against last year.
Of course, it’s also true that Lock ran for a touchdown, the interception caromed off Johnathon Johnson, his receivers struggled to get separation (Emmanuel Hall and Nate Brown were hindered by injuries, Odom said) and several passes were dropped.
For that matter, all of this might have looked different in the alternate reality where Albert Okwuegbunam didn’t surrender a fumble-6 on MU’s first drive with Lock clearly in a rhythm.
As an anticipated first-round NFL pick and face of the program, though, Lock is called on to be the one to transcend it all and seize the moment. So, unfazed and resolute as he seemed after the game, Odom suggested he had taken it personally, saying Lock “realizes the opportunity that is in his lap to give our guys a chance to win.”
“I told him after the game, ‘Every move is going to be evaluated and judged,’ and he’s earned that,” Odom said. “And there’s not a quarterback in the country that I would rather have than Drew Lock.
“He’s our quarterback, and he’s made a lot of plays for us and he’s going to bounce back and lead this football team to a really good season.”
With Lock and a veteran offense and a defense that made strides Saturday after a dreadful performance at Purdue, this season still can be a memorable one for MU with a much more manageable second-half schedule after playing at top-ranked Alabama.
“We’ve been there before; we’ve fought back from worse,” Lock said, referring to last season and adding, “1-5 is a lot worse than 3-1 right now.”
He’s right, but last season’s turnaround isn’t the standard any more, either.
The Tigers squandered a chance to move to another tier on Saturday, and now they are left with little margin for error to make a clear statement about the direction this is going — and what Lock’s legacy will be.