Sept. 12, 2017
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. --- Saturday night was a big one for our area's biggest college football teams.
It was the first home appearance for the new-look Lincoln Blue Tigers with a first-year coach who's talking national championships --- at their new and improved stadium, no less.
This baby's so new and improved, it can make your clothes cleaner and your breath fresher. Guaranteed!
It was also our first look at the Missouri Tigers picking on somebody their own size --- in prime time and on national TV, no less.
Were they ready for prime time?
You bet they were.
Well, for 17 minutes, anyway.
Unfortunately, there were still 43 minutes left in the game. And those 43 minutes, one would assume, were the final straw for head coach Barry Odom, who fired defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross the day after the 31-13 loss.
The timing was odd. Why now, why not a week earlier?
Because the opener was a defensive embarrassment --- it looked like the Missouri defense didn't have enough players on the field in the opener against FCS Missouri State --- a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2009. There were Bears running wild and free all over the field, so the Tigers figured to be no match for the high-flying South Carolina Gamecocks of the SEC.
But in this one --- and facing what's considered one of the best offenses in the conference --- Mizzou's defense only allowed 24 points, with the other touchdown coming on a kickoff return.
It wasn't the 1985 Chicago Bears defense, but it was much better than it was in that silly 72-43 win over Missouri State. The Tigers actually pitched a shutout in the first quarter and led 10-0 early in the second.
But it still wasn't enough to save Cross's job. Odom said it didn't have anything to do with the performance on the field, it had more to do with the "philosophical differences" between the two.
Uh-huh. Two things about that: 1) Doesn't your defensive philosophy dictate what you do on the field? 2) Coaches are like politicians, take what they say with a pile of salt.
The loss puts Missouri at 1-1 heading into Saturday's 3 p.m. game with the Big Ten's Purdue Boilermakers (1-1) at Faurot Field. Purdue beat Ohio last week 44-21, after losing to No. 16 Louisville 35-28 in its opener.
"They're explosive on offense, they're athletic and they stretch the field, and they're able to run the football," Odom said Tuesday. "Defensively, they've done a nice job and they play extremely hard, I'm impressed with what they've done."
No easy task, to be sure, in this clash between two non-power teams from two powerful conferences. For what it's worth, Vegas has the Tigers listed as 7-point favorites.
The biggest questions Saturday will be how the Tigers react after losing to the Gamecocks, then losing their defensive coordinator the next day.
"We've talked about it for a long time --- you're going to hit adversity, it's not always going to be sunny and 75," Odom said. "We're going to have some tough times, it's how you handle them moving forward that matters."
BACK IN JEFFERSON CITY, the Blue Tigers rolled over the other Lincoln, the Lincoln Lions from Pennsylvania, 49-19 for Win No. 1 in the Steve Smith era.
In a statistical oddity, Smith becomes the third straight Lincoln coach to win his home debut. It's odd, of course, because this is a program that hasn't been bulging at the seams with victories.
Part of the stadium's renovations included new lights, which resulted in Lincoln's first night game in 40 years. It wasn't always pretty, but when you haven't had a winning season since 1972, any win is a good win.
The Blue Tigers (1-1) rushed for 265 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Those aren't numbers certainly don't blow you away, but they're quite good when you consider this --- Lincoln rushed for a total, a total, of seven yards in its season-opening loss to Langston. In addition, Lincoln was third-from-last in the nation last year with its two yards per carry average.
Freshman running back Harold Lacy led the charge by rushing for 133 yards and two touchdowns. On this night, the Blue Tigers had some balance, as sophomore quarterback Eugene Sainterling threw for 177 yards and three scores, two of those going to Blake Tibbs.
The local highlight was supplied by freshman Cody Alexander (Blair Oaks), who recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
But in the end, this was simply a game somebody had to win. Our friends from the Lincoln (0-2) in Pennsylvania are now 10-62 this decade; the Blue Tigers improved to 12-68 over the same period. (The Blue Tigers played 11 games most seasons, the Lions only 10.)
Don't put the national championship champagne on ice just yet. Still, congratulations to coach Smith, his staff, and these players on this win.
They've been hard to come by the last 45 years.
Lincoln's Blake Tibbs pulls in an eight-yard touchdown pass from Eugene Sainterling during the first half of Saturday night's game at Reed Stadium.
MU moving forward without Cross;
congrats to Smith for first LU win