Notebook: Missouri keeps level head as it braces for Georgia

The Tigers' lackluster pass coverage against Purdue remains their biggest question mark entering a strenuous conference slate.
Offensive coordinator Derek Dooley talks with members of the media after football practice on Tuesday, September 18, 2018.

If phase one of Missouri’s 2018 season represented a challenge to the notion that Barry Odom’s teams couldn’t put together a strong start to a season, phase two presents a challenge to upend the established order of college football by means of its simplest hierarchical conventions.

Call it the impossible month, call it the Big Three of opponents — call it what you want, this challenge will be a bit more toilsome than phase one.

Georgia. South Carolina. Alabama.

“[Southeastern Conference play] starts fast and furious,” coach Barry Odom said Tuesday.

Missouri (3-0) kicks off its SEC schedule and its most difficult stretch of the season by consensus against No. 2 Georgia (3-0) on Saturday at 11 a.m. The only home game of the upcoming trio, this contest will be televised on ESPN from Memorial Stadium in Columbia.

Here are some talking points and notes from Tuesday’s practice heading into the week four matchup.

Injury updates

Cornerback DeMarkus Acy was listed as a starter on the week four depth chart after suffering a concussion on a head-first tackle in the first quarter against Purdue. But he was wearing a red jersey designating no contact at practice on Tuesday.

“Acy didn’t miss a snap today in practice,” Odom said. “He should be ready to go.”

Acy tweeted after the Purdue game assuring Missouri fans he was OK following the injury. He’s not sure at what point this week the no-contact uniform will be shed, but he too was adamant he’ll be good to go for Saturday.

“I rattled myself,” Acy said. “I’m fine right now. I’m good. I’m gonna be good. I'm gonna be ready. I have to.”

Senior receiver Emanuel Hall will be greenlighted against Georgia despite a groin injury that left him inactive for most of the night against Purdue. He did appear once in the second half for a crucial 25-yard reception on the game-winning drive, but he said it hurt him to run after making the catch.

“I think in football in general, there’s always wear and tear, but the injury stuff I’m not too worried about,” Hall said Tuesday. “I’ve gotta block [lingering pain] out of my mind. I’m ready for Saturday.”

Hall will be a vital piece against a Georgia team that he torched last season, receiving a pair of 63-yard touchdowns on the road in Athens, Georgia.

Junior offensive tackle Yasir Durant did not practice Tuesday due to a sprained ankle, but Odom said Durant is expected to be able to practice Wednesday and be ready for Saturday’s game. He’s been part of an experienced offensive line that impressed against its lesser opponents the first three weeks of the season.

Redshirt junior Richaud Floyd also was dressed for practice on Tuesday but was still limited in activity. Floyd was set to return kicks for Missouri this year before a broken foot over the summer.

“Floyd ran, changed directions; he won’t be ready to play,” Odom said. “But he’s getting closer.”

Taking on the SEC’s big Dawg

Georgia is the highest-ranked team to come to Columbia since Alabama in 2012, but senior quarterback Drew Lock doesn’t want to know that.

“The bigger we make this game, the tougher it can get,” Lock said.

That was the veteran mentality employed by him, Odom and others when asked about the importance of the game, and it’s one they’re sticking to as they prepare throughout the week. That doesn’t mean they were afraid to acknowledge Georgia’s top-tier talent, though.

“I’d say it’s one of the better defenses that I've seen step in here,” Lock said. “They’re extremely athletic in the secondary. They fly around. They're not gonna let you chuck it deep. It’s almost fun to watch while you’re watching on tape.”

Odom heard about Lock’s comment before taking the podium moments later.

“I would disagree with that,” he said. “I haven’t found the fun part.”

The Bulldogs have allowed just 8 points per game across their first three contests. They've averaged 45 per game on offense, and it’s not as though they haven’t been tested; going on the road against South Carolina week two was a highly anticipated SEC East clash, and Georgia waltzed to a 41-17 victory.

“You always want to try to find mismatches,” Odom said, “and there’s not many out there.”

It’ll be a new kind of intensity to face on both sides of the ball, a Georgia team that “pursues to the ball really well” according to tailback Larry Rountree III and has athleticism on defense that Hall is eager to run routes against.

“They have really good corners and I'm really excited about going guys of that caliber, especially [senior] DeAndre Baker,” Hall said. “He’s a really good athlete, but everybody’s beatable.”

A lot of the program’s success can be owed to the precedent set by its helmsman Kirby Smart, as Missouri offensive coordinator Derek Dooley was quick to point out. Dooley got his coaching start as a graduate assistant at Georgia in 1996.

“I’ve known Kirby a long time,” he said. “In fact, when I was GA-ing, [Smart] was a player, and he was probably one of the best coaches on our staff.”

But for all the downplaying of the matchup’s significance, Memorial Stadium is expected to be sold out on Saturday for the first time since 2014. Many of Missouri’s players haven’t experienced a packed Faurot Field while on the team. Lock remembers the ‘Tiger stripe’ game against Connecticut his freshman year as the atmosphere most reminiscent of what he expects this weekend.

“It’s definitely a really awesome environment when we can fill that place up,” Lock said. “I’m excited to see what the turnout is.”

Secondary seeks redemption

Jake Fromm will be a step up from the caliber of quarterback Missouri has faced so far this season, and the Tigers haven’t fared well with even the lesser ones. Purdue came into the week three clash with just 405 total passing yards on the season. Its backup quarterback, David Blough, threw for 572 against a ghastly Missouri secondary.

“Wasn’t the performance that we wanted defensive back-wise, but we know what we’ve gotta do,” Acy said. “We’re cleaning that up in the film room.”

Acy related missing the game against Purdue to having a coach’s role on the sideline, a perspective he says has helped clear things up in the film room this week.

Meanwhile, Odom said he noticed three major problems with the pass coverage against Purdue that are being worked on this week: underneath zone read coverage by linebackers; lack of pressure from the pass rush unit; and too many lost 1-on-1s in the secondary’s man coverage.

Defenders were “enthralled” with watching the quarterback while play-action easily threw off the entire unit, Odom added. Inefficiency against play-action was a point defensive coordinator Ryan Walters agreed on.

“If I’m [Georgia] and I’m watching tape, I’m gonna take shots down the field, I’m gonna play-action,” Walters said. “And I’m gonna set that up with the running game. Our guys understand that, and it’s just about executing the call and having discipline with where your eyes are at and where your reads are telling you to be.”

Running back starting job Rountree’s to keep?

Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett have split carries all season for the Tigers so far — as was the plan — but last Saturday marked the first time one emerged over the other so significantly that it could warrant priority from coaches in the future.

Rountree ran 23 times for 168 yards (7.1 yards per carry) as opposed to Crockett’s 6 carries for 17 yards. Asked if the discrepancy meant Rountree would be featured more this week, Dooley said it would be a factor, but that doesn’t mean Crockett will be forgotten.

“I think every week’s performance is gonna influence what our outlook is going into the game,” Dooley said. “But what matters most is when they get their opportunities, how they take advantage of it … certain players get certain plays, and then at some point in the game you kind of go with who’s hot. And some games, some guys are hotter than others.”

Rountree is the hot hand right now, but he said he still relies on the help of Crockett and freshman Tyler Badie when he needs to “tap out.” Missouri’s depth at the position is what he sees as its greatest advantage.

“We have a good system,” Rountree said. He wasn’t so inclined to linger on his performance against Purdue, either, in determining who gets more reps.

“That’s last week man,” he said. “That’s last week. This is Georgia.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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