Barry Odom plans to retain control of Missouri’s defense next season, and he intends to keep the scheme in place that the Tigers used to end this season.
With five games remaining, Odom announced he’d become more involved in coaching the defense and would take over play-calling duties from defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross, who continued to coach linebackers and help coordinate the defense.
“Defensively, I’ll be as involved as I was the last few games of the season moving forward,” Odom said this week in a wide-ranging interview in which he recapped his team’s 4-8 campaign in his rookie season as coach.
Missouri’s defense didn’t improve after Odom assumed the play-calling duties. The Tigers allowed 5.71 yards per play in the first seven games with Cross calling the defense and 6.58 yards per play during the final five games.
Despite the defense’s struggles, Odom isn’t looking to replace Cross or any of his other assistants, other than filling the vacant defensive line position.
“I’m hopeful that they’re all back next season,” Odom said of his staff. … “It hasn’t always been perfect this year. I do like the makeup of our staff.”
Odom said he’s talked with a handful of candidates for the defensive line position that became open after he fired Jackie Shipp last month for what Odom deemed unacceptable conduct.
“Here in the next few days, I’ll probably have the guy in place,” Odom said.
Missouri’s defense regressed mightily from where it stood in 2015, which was Odom’s lone season as defensive coordinator after he was Memphis’ defensive coordinator for three seasons.
In 2015, the Tigers ranked fifth the nation in scoring defense (16.2 points per game), sixth in total defense (302 yards per game) and third in yards allowed per play (4.32). This year, MU ranks in a tie for 89th in scoring defense (31.5), 118th in total defense (479.7) and 95th in yards allowed per play (6.07).
Missouri opened the season using a read-and-react scheme, different from what it used a year ago. The defense was built on a desire to be stout against the run, even if it meant sacrificing some sacks produced by the defensive line. MU didn’t generate many sacks in the read-and-react system, but it also couldn’t stop the run, largely due to poor tackling.
When Odom took over defensive play-calling, he reverted Missouri to an aggressive scheme similar to what it used in previous seasons. That scheme frees up the defensive linemen to get upfield and try to disrupt plays. Missouri generated 17 of its 27 sacks in the final five games.
That’s the scheme Odom will stick with going forward.
“We’re going to try to get up the field,” Odom said.
Odom intends to delegate more of the special teams responsibilities. He was in charge of special teams this year.
Odom’s approach was different from Gary Pinkel’s. In the Pinkel era, the various special teams assignments were divvied among his assistant coaches
Odom wanted to coach special teams as a way to build connections with offensive players who didn’t know him as well as defensive players. However, he expects that being the head coach, calling the defense and coaching the special teams would be too much for one man to handle.
“I can be the head coach and call the defense,” Odom said. “I’m going to have to lend some of the special teams out a little bit.”
NO GRAY AREA: Odom wasted little time parting ways with sophomore wide receiver Keyon Dilosa last week. On Wednesday morning, Dilosa was arrested for allegedly hitting a woman in the face. On Thursday, MU announced Dilosa had been dismissed from the program.
When asked Monday whether violence against women would yield an automatic dismissal, Odom said yes.
“There’s a few things in our program that there’s no gray area, and that’s one of them,” Odom said.
Odom said his players know where he stands on the matter.
“We had speakers come in and talk about all societal issues, and that was one of them,” Odom said. “As a program, we’ve got to stand for certain things.”
RECRUITING APPROACH: Missouri didn’t have any junior college commitments in its 2017 recruiting class until last weekend. Then it received two juco pledges in as many days.
Rashad Brandon, a sophomore defensive tackle from ASA College in New York, committed on Saturday, and Nathaniel Anderson, a sophomore defensive end from the New Mexico Military Institute, committed on Sunday.
Odom said he plans to be selective when recruiting junior college prospects.
“There’s a balance there that we’ve got to continue to work on,” Odom said. “There’s obviously some needs on our team right now because of different reasons that we’ve got to get maybe a more mature, experienced guy, so we’ll continue to work that by position and see where we are.”
Odom also expressed a cautious approach to taking graduate transfers. Missouri had three graduate transfers this year – wide receiver Chris Black, running back Alex Ross and offensive lineman Michael Stannard.
Black, who caught 17 passes for 257 yards and also returned some punts, saw the most playing time of the trio.
“It’s got to be the right fit on both sides,” Odom said. “I’m sure here in the next couple weeks, some of those will reach out, and you just have to decide if it’s something that your current team needs.”
ONGOING INVESTIGATION: Odom said he remains “really confident in the job that our academic support staff does.”
Missouri announced on Nov. 22 that it was working in conjunction with the NCAA to investigate allegations of academic fraud committed by a former athletic department tutor. Former tutor Yolanda Kumar revealed in a Facebook post that day that she was the whistleblower, saying she cheated for athletes in revenue-generating sports under encouragement from her superiors.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people to talk to and interview and go through the process,” Odom said. “At the end of the day, I trust in the people running the academic center and how that process is going to take place with the NCAA. … It will be nice to get through it. I don’t know what the time frame’s going to be.”
ATTENDANCE DROP: Missouri experienced a 19.8 percent drop in average home attendance this season. The Tigers averaged 52,236 fans for seven home dates after averaging 65,120 for six home dates last season.
Missouri’s largest home crowd was 57,098 for its Sept. 17 game against Georgia, and its smallest crowd was 50,234 for its Oct. 29 game against Kentucky.
The attendance drop corresponded with Missouri’s lowest win total since going 4-7 in 2001, which was Pinkel’s first season.
“I’ve got to do a great job within the state of putting a brand and a program that people want to follow,” Odom said. “Believe me, I know how many are in the seats and not in the seats. I see it and understand that that’s part of my job.”
FUTURE ROSTER: Odom said no players have informed him yet that they intend to transfer. He expects to learn more about the direction of next year’s roster after he meets individually with each player next week.