At the halfway point of the 2019 season, Missouri’s defense has been a cornerstone of the team’s success.
After five straight wins allowing an average of less than 12 points per game, the Tigers have turned eyes around the Southeastern conference about the type of team they can be.
Missouri head coach Barry Odom points to two factors about his defense’s improvement over last season at this time.
"I would say experience in the scheme. And then also, you know, that's a big part of it but also (we) worked on a lot of different things this year that we didn't do last year just schematically,” Odom said. “Our guys have been great learners, but our staff has done a really good job on teaching. But then we've got some confidence because we have made plays.
“We understand and trust the way that it's called and what the job that each person has to do on that and they worked really hard to build the trust within each other and the belief that it is going to work. And then, the habits are aligning to give us much that we are playing with confidence and when you play with confidence and you play fast and those things.”
The defense’s success led three Missouri players being named to Pro Football Focus’ midseason All-American teams.
Cale Garrett earned first-team honors, while Jordan Elliott and Nick Bolton picked up second-team accolades.
Odom credits a lot of the defense’s success to the plans of defensive coordinator Ryan Walters.
“Ryan's done a great job calling it on understanding within the game plan on where we're trying to take,” Odom added. “You know what they do best anyway, and our guys have really bought into it."
Just as Missouri’s defense finds its groove, it’ll play on the road in SEC play for the first time this season on Saturday against Vanderbilt.
“I think our guys are actually excited to get out on the road,” Walters said. “You know it's something that kind of brings you together going to a different environment with one common goal and kind of getting away from normalcy of living and playing in Columbia.
“Obviously you love home games and home crowd and all that kind of stuff but it's time to sort to go out and get something accomplished so this week's preparation been huge and I think our guys are looking forward to playing in Nashville.”
The Commodores sit at 1-5 overall and 0-3 in the SEC coming into their matchup with the Tigers.
Odom believes Vanderbilt is much better than what its record shows. Vanderbilt has eight returning starters from last year’s team.
In particular, Odom called Ke’Shawn Vaughn “one of the best running backs in college football.” He’s also aware of the potential of wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb, who is “talented and making plays,” as well as tight end Jared Pinkney, who is “a matchup problem.”
Odom expects to see a heavy dose of all three in Missouri’s first road game since August. Considering the talent levels of Vaughn, Lipscomb and Pinkney, Odom is surprised the Commodores have the record they do.
"They're a play here or there away from (their record) being completely different,” Odom said. “And, you know, I'm sure that that they'll play their best game this week and you know they'll rally behind the opportunity to go finish the season strong.”
There were three slight changes to this week’s Missouri depth chart.
At linebacker, Cameron Wilkins is listed with Jamal Brooks as co-starters in the spot Garrett vacated two weeks ago.
Cade Musser and Richaud Floyd are listed as co-starters at punt returner after Musser played at that spot for a majority of the game against Mississippi.
Floyd was the starting punt returner for the Tigers’ first five games.
At safety, Khalil Oliver is now listed as the clear starter, with the “or” removed between him and Ronnell Perkins.
Odom added that the team is starting to get settled with the offensive line combination of Yasir Durant, Case Cook, Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms, Trystan Colon-Castillo and Larry Borom.