Notebook: Well-rested Missouri has high hopes for telling road task

The Tigers follow their bye week with one of the most important SEC showdowns of the season at South Carolina, Saturday at 11 a.m.
Sophomore tight end Albert Okwuegbunam catches a pass during a drill at Missouri's fall camp practice at the Mizzou Athletics Training Center on August 16, 2018.

Missouri football probably emerged from its bye week with more changes to the Faurot Field south end zone than to the team’s depth chart, and that’s how coach Barry Odom wants it.

“It was a productive week,” Odom said. “I thought our team handled it in a mature way, kind of like most of the things this team has handled so far.”

The Tigers (3-1, 0-1 SEC) were “banged up” after their week four loss in a slugfest with Georgia, Odom said at the time, but no injuries appear to have been too impactful to inhibit anyone’s availability this week when Missouri goes to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks (2-2, 1-2 SEC). Kickoff is at 11 a.m. CST and will be televised on SEC Network.

Injury Updates

Redshirt junior Richaud Floyd, who had been slated to return kicks for Missouri before suffering a broken foot over the summer, has been moved into the third-string slot receiver position on the depth chart. He’s also listed as the No. 2 punt returner. He was on the practice field in pads on Tuesday, but Odom said he’s not game-ready yet.

The rest of Missouri’s receivers will be active Saturday. Seniors Nate Brown and Emanuel Hall were beaten up after week four, Odom said, but the bye week has allowed both to recuperate. Hall is still atop the receiver depth chart despite a lingering groin injury that may have contributed to him getting bottled up against Georgia. He didn’t have a single reception in the game after averaging 143 yards through his first three.

Senior defensive back Cam Hilton will have no limitations this weekend after undergoing surgery on his fractured thumb this week.

Hilton delayed the surgery until the bye week after injuring his thumb against Purdue. Odom had advised Hilton to have the surgery because Odom had a similar injury once during his playing days.

“At first, I didn’t know if I wanted to get surgery, and [Odom] influenced me to get it,” Hilton said. “He never got it and he said that he regrets it.”

Hilton had to exit during parts of the Georgia game due to problems with the thumb coming out of place in his cast. Now that the thumb is “fixed,” Odom sees Hilton being more productive the rest of the season.

Georgia brings back memories of South Carolina last year

As players have been quick to point out over the last week-and-a-half, it was just a handful of plays against Georgia that might have made the difference between Missouri’s loss and a potential upset.

“It’s hard to think about, but if two or three of those plays didn’t happen, it’s a whole different game,” Hilton said.

Special teams and defensive touchdowns in the first half were particularly damning – and reminiscent of a similar stumble in the first half against South Carolina last year. Missouri led 10-0 in the second quarter before the Gamecocks returned a kickoff for a touchdown, immediately intercepted Drew Lock, then scored again on the next play. The drastic turn of events made it 14-10 and snowballed into a 31-13 MU loss.

“They handled momentum and sort of changed the momentum with really three plays,” defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said when asked what he remembers most about that game.

The ongoing snag for the Tigers, it seems, is how to make those kind of plays go their way.

“Those things are sort of create your own luck,” Walters said. “They allow you to be the beneficiary of other people’s mistakes.”

Walters was the secondary coach last season and was tasked with containing South Carolina standout Deebo Samuel, who scored both game-changing touchdowns within those 15 seconds. Samuel was called “one of the best playmakers in college football” by Odom Tuesday, but he and the Tigers were more concerned with themselves.

“You can’t kick yourself in the foot,” Walters said. “Can’t have self-inflicted mistakes. Especially against the type of pedigree we’re gonna play against. When something bad happens, not allowing that to affect the next play or the next series. That’s just sort of the maturation we see as a team.”

Offense out of comfort zone without deep option

Georgia played two deep safeties week four to limit Hall and Missouri’s explosive plays in the passing game, holding the Tigers to under 30 points for the first time this season.

Missouri had to turn to its ground game and ran for four touchdowns, as well as turning to tight ends and running backs through the air.

“The theory is you should have good numbers running the football,” offensive coordinator Derek Dooley said. “Georgia was, I’m sure, hell-bent on making sure we didn’t have a lot of explosive plays.”

After Georgia’s success, opponents like South Carolina could look to replicate the two-safety shell defense in the coming weeks.

Redshirt junior Johnathon Johnson and sophomore Albert Okwuegbunam would see increased roles in the slot and down the seam and need to keep defenses honest in the middle of the field to open up the deep ball.

“We have to execute based on anything they do,” Okwuegbunam said. “If they tell us we’re not going to throw it deep, we have to execute in other ways.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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