HOUSTON — Missouri is on a six-game winning streak after starting the season 1-5.
A win over Texas in Wednesday night’s Texas Bowl would make the Tigers (7-5) only the second team from a Power 5 conference to finish with eight wins after opening the year 1-5 and the first since Rutgers did it in 2008.
Such a remarkable turnaround has many asking second-year coach Barry Odom what he did to get the team on track.
“I’m going to sell it for $19.99 and if you call now, you can buy one, get one free. We’ll see how that goes in the off-season,” Odom joked.
Then he got serious.
“Really, we didn’t change much,” he said. “We’ve got a really good group of kids that were bought in together that cared about each other that knew that we were doing a lot of things in our program the right way and we were getting so close to breaking down the wall. We just weren’t playing really good on Saturdays.”
The Tigers, who are in a bowl for the first time since 2014, have not only won six games in a row, they have done it in impressive fashion, winning those games by an average of 30 points. They have also scored 45 points or more in each of those wins, to set a school record.
Texas is back in a bowl for the first time since the team also played in the Texas Bowl in 2014. They’re coming off a loss to Texas Tech that capped another disappointing season in the first year under coach Tom Herman. The Longhorns (6-6) need a victory to give them their first winning season since finishing 8-5 in Mack Brown’s final season in 2013.
Herman said this year has been a challenge in changing the culture on the team.
“That three straight losing seasons takes its toll on kids, really does,” he said. “It’s difficult for them, especially when you … deal with adversity, it can be a: ‘here we go again syndrome.’ So that has been an ongoing challenge of re-establishing the right way to handle adversity and the right way to compete and the right way to go about our daily business.”
Some things to know about the Texas Bowl.
The Longhorns will be without several players on Wednesday night for a variety of reasons. Safety DeShon Elliott and offensive tackle Connor Williams are skipping the game after declaring for the NFL draft. Cornerback Holton Hill, who missed the last three games of the season for violating team rules, will also miss the game after declaring for the draft. Defensive tackle Chris Nelson won’t play after injuring his elbow in practice and tight end Garrett Gray, receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey and running back Toneil Carter will miss the game after being suspended for violating team rules.
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock threw 43 touchdown passes this season to set school and Southeastern Conference records. Lock’s touchdown passes were the most in the nation, marking the first time an SEC quarterback led the country in that category since Florida’s Danny Wuerffel in 1996 when he won the Heisman Trophy.
Lock threw for 3,695 yards and has thrown three or more touchdown passes in each of his last eight games, highlighted by a six-touchdown game in a win over Idaho.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Herman said. “He’s getting the ball out of his hands quickly and accurately. But I also see guys, supporting cast, that are making plays for him, too.”
Herman said that both Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger will get time at quarterback against the Tigers.
Ehlinger is a freshman who appeared in eight games and was 147 of 260 for 1,803 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Buechele is a sophomore who also played in eight games. He was 131 of 199 for 1,350 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions.
“Neither of these quarterbacks have done anything so egregious that you would say that a guy is behind the other one, but neither of them have done anything really to take the bull by the horns,” Herman said. “So we’ll figure out who is playing better and who is in a rhythm and who is seeing the defence better and playing the game better and ride that guy for as long as we can.”
After the 1-5 start, Missouri’s defence made a major turnaround to help get the Tigers on the right track. Through their first six games the Tigers allowed 42.2 points a game, but have allowed just 21.3 points a game since then.
The Tigers have a knack for getting in the backfield and are tied for 14th in the nation with 92 tackles for losses.