Injury-plagued Missouri seeks 1st conference win vs Kentucky
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Missouri coach Barry Odom considers his role to be that of a teacher. He is still learning things in his inaugural season at the helm of his alma mater.
Saturday's game against Kentucky will be his latest test.
The Tigers (2-5, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) have dramatically improved their offense from a year ago, when they finished second to last in the nation in offensive efficiency. Missouri leads the SEC in yards per game with 505, but that has not always led to wins. Last week, Missouri lost its homecoming game 51-45 to Middle Tennessee, surrendering 584 yards, including 300 on the ground. The Tigers also piled up penalties that allowed MTSU to extend multiple drives.
Odom is reevaluating his level of involvement with all sides of the ball, including his area of expertise - defense.
''I've got an opportunity to go help that side out and I'm going to do it,'' Odom said. ''I've been trying to balance both sides along with some of the other things and I need to spend my focus there.''
Odom was Missouri's defensive coordinator last season, and discussed the fine line between aiding and interfering.
''If there's a call I really don't like, or I don't think it's the right tine or fit for it, I'll say something,'' Odom said. ''But also, as a head coach, I recall being a coordinator not that long ago and I want those guys to feel comfortable doing their work too, not overlooking all the time, `What's the head coach thinking?'''
Kentucky (4-3, 3-2) will look to capitalize on Missouri's recent struggles. The Wildcats seek their third consecutive SEC victory after defeating Vanderbilt 20-13 on Oct. 8 and Mississippi State 40-38 last Saturday. It would be the first three-game conference win streak for the Wildcats since 1999.
''They put a lot of stress on you,'' Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said of Missouri's offense. ''They go extremely fast and they've got some very dynamic players, so it's going to be a real challenge.''
Here are some things to watch Saturday:
Missouri has been hit with a string of injuries, four of which occurred in the loss to Middle Tennessee. Linebacker Michael Scherer tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee, effectively ending his college career with five games to play. Additionally, Terry Beckner Jr. tore his ACL in his left knee after the same injury to his right knee cut his 2015 season short. Scherer led Missouri with 53 tackles in seven starts. Beckner had 24 tackles, including two for loss, three quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery.
''Everybody in America is banged up at this point,'' Odom said. ''It's week seven or eight or nine for some. That's the game. You've got to have your next guys ready to go play.''
With a win Saturday, Kentucky would secure its fourth conference win, something it hasn't accomplished since 2006 under Rich Brooks. Additionally, the Wildcats have won their last three home games, something they last accomplished in 1996.
''I was proud of our team this past week in finding a way to win and showing some toughness and some resiliency against Mississippi State, but there's a lot of things that we can do better,'' Stoops said.
FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
Missouri has just 16 seniors on its roster, including Scherer, while Kentucky has 11, the fewest in the nation. Missouri senior cornerback John Gibson was also injured against Middle Tennessee, and is still not a guarantee for Saturday.
''It does present a real challenge,'' Stoops said of his lack of seniors. ''You're starting to see our team grow up a little bit. We wouldn't have been able to win some close games and some tough games without their leadership.''