Missouri football sees Homecoming as chance to overcome past

The Tigers, who attempt to put their early-season struggles behind them this week, will also have to get past another hurdle: last year’s Homecoming defeat.

A Middle Tennessee player escapes a Missouri tackler in the Tigers 51-45 loss on Homecoming weekend on Oct. 22, 2017 in Columbia. Maneater File Photo

On all fronts, Barry Odom is ready for a fresh start.

During his weekly press conference Monday ahead of his second Homecoming as the head coach of Missouri football, the former Tigers linebacker spoke about the long-standing tradition and spirit of Homecoming. He rattled off some facts about its history at Mizzou and discussed the importance of imparting the significance of the game on his players.

But on the topic of the last year’s 51-45 Homecoming loss at the hands of Middle Tennessee, Odom was a bit more brief.

“I won’t revisit last year,” Odom said. “We’ve had enough to worry about this year and obviously enough challenges leading up to Saturday. We’ll have plenty of time to focus on that.”

Last year’s Homecoming debacle wasn’t the only thing that Odom and his team are looking to get over this week. During Sunday’s team meeting, after the Tigers fell to 1-5 on the season with a road loss Saturday night to Georgia, Odom symbolically put the first half of the season in the past. In a demonstration that nearly singed the eyebrows of those sitting in the front row of the room, Odom doused a series of objects with lighter fluid and burned away the Tigers’ first six games.

Tossed into the blaze were stat sheets, items referencing questionable officiating and a host of other things that represented the futility of the first half of the Tigers season.

His players ate it up.

“It got everyone pretty riled up, and he had to stop because the flames were getting big,” redshirt junior offensive tackle Paul Adams said. “The front row was starting to back up, like, ‘All right coach, it’s kind of getting hot in here; let’s put that lid on real quick.’ But it was a lot of fun and the energy was great.”

Tuesday after practice, the players universally agreed that after the incineration, the first six games were, in fact, behind them.

“We threw it all in the cooler, lit it on fire and said goodbye to it,” junior quarterback Drew Lock said. “We’ve got six games coming up for sure where we can go make a difference.”

With six games remaining on the schedule, the Tigers now set their focus on turning the season around this Saturday when the Idaho Vandals come to town. It’s a game that has the potential to set the tone for the rest of Missouri’s season, and Odom’s players know it. Even with the first half of the season in the rearview mirror, another hurdle still remains for the Tigers.

While Odom may be past last year’s Homecoming, several Tigers still have a sour taste in their mouths from the loss to Middle Tennessee.

Adams didn’t shy away from the notion that this weekend’s game held more significance than others, and for reasons larger than Homecoming itself. A number of players who were on the field for last year’s upset are not yet over it.

“That was kind of one of the things when we got off the plane Sunday; we got up here and we were like, ‘All right, it’s Homecoming week,” Adams said. “We can’t let another team like that come in [and beat us]. There’s a lot of pride when it comes to it, so obviously this week we’re working really hard.”

Redshirt junior offensive tackle Kevin Pendleton recalled the feeling of disappointment last year’s loss brought as well, and said he feels that there is a sense of pride the Tigers must live up to when alumni come back to see the program they helped build.

“Last year wasn’t a great one, of course, against Middle Tennessee,” Pendleton said.

Against the Vandals, the Tigers will be looking to flip the script on both hurdles: overcoming an underwhelming Homecoming performance in 2016 and finding a way to salvage the 2017 season. Adams and Pendleton are done harping on the past and are now ready to look forward.

“It’s kind of a fresh start; Coach Odom has hinted at it and all the coaches have,” Pendleton said. “The last six weeks, they don’t matter anymore. It’s all over, it’s all behind us — we’re moving on.”

Ahead of what many on the team haved called the Tigers’ most important game of the season, Adams, a team captain, has taken the opportunity to be a different sort of leader for his teammates.

“I’ve been trying to be more vocal,” Adams said. “I’m usually the kind to sort of sit back and observe and pull the guy off to the side and talk to him a little bit. But I’m trying to be more vocal in front of groups, and not be scared of that.”

The two also have an opportunity to achieve a goal that neither will directly admit to: making a bowl game. With five losses on the season, it’s a still attainable goal, but one that is hanging on by a thread. Both see getting over the past and earning a win on Saturday as the starting point to getting to that place.

With the past behind him and his teammates, Pendleton already has a pretty clear idea of what he envisions for the Tigers going forward.

“We want to send these seniors out right, take them to somewhere nice and sunny, and hopefully a beach and some palm trees,” he said.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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