Missouri is officially in the second segment of its season.
After four games over a 21-day span, the Tigers were off last weekend. But Tuesday, they practiced ahead of another four-game stretch over that many weekends.
After MU faces Troy, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, another bye will come. Missouri finishes the regular season with four straight games.
Those equal parts representing a third of the Tigers’ challenges are a clear indicator of where they stand.
At 3-1 and with Troy coming to Columbia on Saturday, MU is confident, yet doesn’t seem to be looking past anything or anyone.
Missouri knows if it had limited its mistakes all season long, it’d still be undefeated right now.
“You got to learn from your failures ... you definitely saw an uptick in urgency and intensity within preparation,” MU defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said. “... Those are lessons that you don't forget.”
The bye week gave the Tigers a chance to focus on themselves for every second of a few practices and get a little healthier along the way.
Senior offensive lineman Yasir Durant was a full participant in Tuesday’s practice after suffering a neck injury against SEMO on Sept. 14 and not playing in the win over South Carolina. Junior tight end Brendan Scales also took part, returning from a broken foot.
Trajan Jeffcoat was listed as a third-team defensive end on this week’s Missouri depth chart ahead of Saturday’s game. Jeffcoat hasn’t played this season because of an elbow injury and was behind starter Jatorian Hansford and Columbia native Tre Williams.
“I thought our team handled the week in a very mature way ... There was a great sense of urgency and focus that was felt throughout the entire organization as we get into the next four game stretch,” Missouri head coach Barry Odom said.
THE NEXT STEP
Many Tigers will admit they’ve seen their team improve since the start of the season, possibly even over the last week.
But what happens next?
“More than anything, it's just consistency in everything we do because there's some really good things that we put on film the first four games, and there's some things you go ‘we’re better than that,’” Missouri offensive coordinator Derek Dooley said.
Offensively, the Tigers have scored at least 31 points in each game this season. Yet, whether it's the start against South Carolina or not keeping their foot on the gas against West Virginia or SEMO, they still believe there’s more to prove.
“We feel we haven’t played our best ball yet,” Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant said. “We got a lot of areas to improve. We haven’t put together four quarters.”
Since Missouri’s loss in Laramie, it’s allowed 21 points in three home games.
Opponents averaging a touchdown and an extra point a game is ideal. However, with Troy’s offense that’s scored at least 35 points in every single game, and the rigors of the Southeastern Conference, MU knows adversity will strike at some point.
One factor working for Missouri’s defense is its ability to create turnovers. The Tigers already have five interceptions on the season, half of what they had in 13 games last season.
Also through four games, MU has four defensive touchdowns. The program record is six defensive touchdowns in a season, accomplished in 2008.
Walters credits the hiring of defensive backs coach David Gibbs for being a factor in the turnaround.
“His point of emphasis is emphasizing it every day and not slacking at all,” Walters said of Gibbs. “You see a loose ball on the ground, you pick it up, always talking about trying to punch the ball out.
“... Guys are experienced and know that those opportunities don't come around very often and they're making plays.”
Despite the Trojans playing in the Sun Belt Conference, Missouri is approaching the game like any other.
Odom said Troy was a few plays from being undefeated when it comes to Columbia. He added he’s known first-year head coach Chip Lindsey for “a number of years.” Lindsey was Auburn’s offensive coordinator before moving in-state to Troy.
Walters echoed Odom’s take on the Trojans potential and added that Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker looks comfortable in his team’s system.
Troy has defeated a Power Five Conference team in each of the last two seasons — taking down Nebraska last year and LSU in 2017. Kelly Bryant was on the second-ranked Clemson squad that defeated the Trojans by only six in 2016.
Missouri does not want to be that notch in Troy's belt for 2019.