One suggestion for the Missouri football team, from the peanut gallery.
Go watch some game film from 2007.
Bring back that touchdown celebration former Tigers quarterback Chase Daniel performed with countless pass-catchers during the Tigers' 12-2 season.
Current players won’t.
Daniel and his teammates would meet briefly in the end zone and quickly shake hands. Their message was clear. They had been here before. They would be back.
What is the word for that? Confidence? Standards? Expectations?
Whatever it is, it’s exactly what Barry Odom’s players continue to search for in his fourth season.
The memory of Mizzou’s business-like touchdown celebration of the not-so-distant past came to mind during a recent discussion about what we saw from the Tigers during Saturday’s 21-14 loss to Vanderbilt.
One play, specifically, still stands out.
What was star Tigers tight end Albert Okwuegbunam thinking after he caught his team’s first touchdown pass?
The 6-foot-5, 225 pound preseason All-SEC play-maker had beaten 6-foot-nothing, 200-pound Vanderbilt defensive back Cam Watkins off the line of scrimmage and used his bigger, stronger frame to grab Kelly Bryant’s throw. For him, it was the equivalent of snapping his chinstrap. Easy.
The upcoming extra-point would tie the score at 7-7 in the second quarter. But not before Albert O. made a ‘doh’ decision. Right in front of an official, he ran to Watkins, squared up in front of him and said whatever he said that sent a penalty flag flying.
Okwuegbunam was caught by TV cameras laughing on the sideline moments later.
Who’s laughing now?
If there is a better definition of playing down to an over-matched opponent, please find one.
Though, to be fair, Saturday’s game offered plenty of examples.
In so many different ways, the Tigers gave the Commodores life.
You saw it in the student section that realized it finally had something to cheer about. You saw it in star Commodores running Ke’Shawn Vaughn when he broke a tackle on a screen pass, looked up and dashed for a 61-yard sprint to glory. You saw it in Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason, who coached like a maniac on the sideline, potentially saving his job one play at a time. You saw it when a Vanderbilt defensive back dropped Okwuegbunam on his head, injuring the tight end's knee not long after his taunt.
Mizzou’s offensive line should apologize. Commodores came up the middle and around the edges. Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms was picked on with stunt after stunt. Trystan Colon-Castillo did more jawing and shoving after the whistle than he did effective blocking. Case Cook was often overwhelmed. And this came just one week after this same line dominated Ole Miss. The Rebels beat Vanderbilt by 25.
One game after perhaps his best performance in black and gold, Kelly Bryant was an impostor of himself.
Mizzou’s defense inspired the confidence of Vaughn and first-time Vanderbilt starting quarterback Mo Hasan — until defensive back Tyree Gillespie knocked the QB from the game with the most well-deserved targeting penalty in the history of college football. The cheap shot on the sliding quarterback would have put an asterisk on a win, if the Tigers had won.
Kicker Tucker McCann’s erosion of confidence continued in real time.
The senseless penalties by Okwuegbuman and Gillespie were just two of 12 that handed Vanderbilt 120 yards in a seven-point game.
Add it all up, and it’s one of the worst upsets in Mizzou football history.
Against an opponent that had beaten only Northern Illinois this season and in a stadium that held as many if not more fans rooting for Mizzou as Vanderbilt, the No. 22 Tigers, winners of five in a row, could not accomplish what 2-5 UNLV did here the week before — put their foot down on a spiraling opponent that had spent the week wondering if its head coach was about to get canned.
For the second time in Odom’s 45 games, the Tigers were a top-25 team entering a game. And for the second time in those two games, they lost that ranking by losing to an underdog. The Commodores pulled an Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Mizzou's season-opening spin-out at Mountain West opponent Wyoming started the year with a stubbed toe. This egg in Nashville was worse. The Tigers snuffed the goodwill they had created with a five-game home winning streak. They had about as much positive energy in motion as possible for a team that is still waiting to hear back about its postseason ban. So much for that. A troubling trend grows.
For the 10th time in Odom’s tenure, Mizzou lost to a team Las Vegas favored it to beat. The Tigers’ 22-10 mark as the betting favorite during the Odom era computes to a 68.8 percent winning percentage in those games. Research by Post-Dispatch Mizzou beat writer Dave Matter reveals that’s the second-lowest winning percentage among SEC teams during that span. Only Arkansas (10-5, 66.7 percent) has been worse.
Odom heaped blame on himself Saturday, and in this sport, that’s the direction it always rolls. But you can bet he hates these losses as much as anyone. It's fair to ask if his players hate it nearly enough.
Odom had asked his team to “put the blinders on” entering the Vanderbilt game, encouraging them to avoid outside distractions.
It might be time for the Tigers to take the blinders off, to take a long look in the mirror.
They're an above-average team, but far from great.
Great teams don't take weeks off.
Great teams play tough between the whistles instead of talking tough after them.