Moral victories, anyone? Barry Odom says no after loss to Georgia

Missouri’s first defeat of the season came in sloppy but competitive fashion to No. 2 Georgia, leaving two schools of thought.
Barry Odom looks to the field before leading his team to the sideline to take on Wyoming on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018.

Terez Hall doesn’t even want to hear the other side of the equation.

“A lot of times I feel like you get caught up in the: ‘Aw man, they’re the No. 2 team,’” the senior linebacker said Saturday. “No, forget that. That’s just a number.”

“They” are the defending SEC champion Georgia Bulldogs. You want to focus on a number? Try this one, Hall says.

“We [were] both undefeated.”

Missouri (3-1, 0-1 SEC) can’t say that anymore after dropping its conference opener to Georgia, 43-29, on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Coming into the matchup, the Tigers were heavy underdogs based on that No. 2 ranking. Coming out of it, there are two ways to look at things.

The first: Missouri overcame three turnovers, a sluggish offense, a 20-point deficit, countless momentum changes and a plethora of other miscues and missed opportunities, all to give Georgia a closely contested, genuinely challenging road test. The Tigers were very much in the game halfway through the fourth quarter, moving the ball near midfield in a two-possession game. The defense overcame a historically bad performance at Purdue a week ago to lock down Georgia for the entire first half, and a few times afterward. And whatever Hall says, Georgia is one of the best teams in the country on paper.

The second: Missouri had in front of itself an opportunity for a classic win, an opportunity to dethrone one of the best teams in the nation and replace it atop the SEC East. Instead, it missed microcosmic opportunity after opportunity throughout the game to make that dream a reality. Drew Lock’s offense stalled often, the defense stumbled when it needed second half stops, touchdowns were called back, turnovers spoiled momentum, the receivers were never open and the refs were always wrong. Missouri out-played its opponent in numerous facets, and it all went to waste.

That’s Hall’s take. And Barry Odom’s. And a few other guys’ – mostly the older ones who are sick of losing to the Bulldogs.

“People think we just play to play. They’re like, ‘Oh, Mizzou is playing this team, so keep it close,’ or something like that,” Hall said. “We didn’t prepare a full week beating up on each other just so we could lose a close game.

“Mizzou beat Mizzou, man.”

Part of that mentality is best contextualized in contrast with last season. Missouri entered Athens, Georgia, off to a 1-4 start in 2017, and the floundering Tigers played honorably – if for just the first half. They were pummeled 53-28 after racing off to a 21-21 start. It was all good and fine at the time for a team on the verge of a rebound, but this isn’t the same team. This team was 3-0.

These Tigers are better off described as a conglomerate of grizzled veterans. The same result wouldn’t fit well with the whole growth motif.

“I’m not into moral victories,” Odom said. “It doesn’t sit well with our team.”

Especially when, early on in this contest, Missouri could’ve easily led by double digits. An interception of Jake Fromm on the opening possession had Faurot Field shaking. The only thing that could make it louder was a breakout touchdown, and freshman Tyler Badie provided. Missouri was on top of the blue bloods – until it turned out Badie had stepped out of bounds 40 yards early.

Instead, it’s Georgia who has the first touchdown and the lead, on a play that wasn’t whistled dead for forward progress to the chagrin of 58,284 onlooking referees.

Then it’s a field goal that went in, except it didn’t. Missouri gets a stop anyway, then scores to tie it. 17-0 Missouri? Not quite: 7-7.

Then it’s a tip-drill interception returned inside the 10 that should’ve just been a simple slant to Johnathon Johnson for a first down. Then a blocked punt walked in for a touchdown. Ten more points given away and it’s 20-7 Georgia at half.

The golden question revolves around that sentence. The other way to spin it? Ten more points given away, but it’s only 20-7 Georgia at half.

The resilience and ability to stay close in spite of any shortcomings is what junior running back Damarea Crockett prided the Tigers on after the game.

“It’s bittersweet – it’s encouraging, obviously,” Crockett said. “We definitely played them really evenly. It was probably about five plays that dictated who won and lost that game. We felt like we could hang with them. Don’t take it as a loss, take it as a learning lesson.”

Senior safety Cam Hilton was an embodiment of that toughness and resilience. He was part of a defensive unit that improved on its atrocious outing at Purdue – and he was playing through a broken thumb suffered late in last week’s game.

“At first they didn’t know if I was gonna be able to play at all,” Hilton said, showing off the thick cast around his hand and forearm that would’ve prevented him from pulling in any interceptions. “It had this times three wrapped around [while playing.]”

Hilton and the defense weren’t perfect, but if there’s one instance that exhibited the group’s toughness and awareness, it was Christian Holmes ignoring the whistle and returning an almost-prematurely dropped ball 100 yards from end zone to end zone, even though the play would end up standing as a Georgia touchdown.

“Things just didn’t go our way,” Hilton said.

But that was another one of those “what-if” moments that brings back the feeling that at the end of the day, silver lining or not, Missouri could’ve (should’ve?) won this game.

“We just focus on minimizing those mistakes,” Hilton said, “and we’re gonna be a great football team.”

The Tigers will have two weeks to think about those mistakes and those “what-ifs” before they’re in action next against South Carolina on Oct. 6. As for which school of thought to employ after this week? That's for you to decide. But if it aids you at all in your decision, Odom's mind was adamantly made up by the time he took the podium for his press conference after this mind-boggling defeat.

“It rips at your soul.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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