Not so long ago, the University of Missouri was stranded in a lost generation of football with no end or escape in sight.
It was a hapless, hopeless time that included a 73-0 fiasco at Texas A&M in 1993, routine bludgeoning by Nebraska and the 42-0 loss at Illinois in 1994 when Mizzou mustered its lone first down with 3 minutes 39 seconds left.
But the most lopsided loss in MU history was the so-called “Norman Conquest,” the 77-0 humbling at Oklahoma in 1986.
Among those in the stands that day was a young Barry Odom, a Sooner fan from Ada, Okla.
“I think we left at halftime, though,” Odom, then a junior linebacker at MU, said in 1998.
Just like so many Mizzou fans did on Saturday at Memorial Stadium watching what is now Odom’s product get skunked 35-3 by Purdue.
It was a deceptively close score for what was a devastating statement about where the program stands, one that makes you wonder if Odom will soon bear witness to — and be culpable for — another of MU’s low times.
After Gary Pinkel revived MU, including guiding it to a (brief) No. 1 ranking and two Southeastern Conference division titles, maybe you figured those days were safely stashed in the past.
But after the inept loss, MU is on the brink of plummeting back into that death spiral under Odom — who, on a day fans emptied out well before halftime, appeared to have lost his listless and undisciplined team.
For starters, this game was over after Purdue poured through the porous MU defense for 258 yards and touchdowns on its first three drives. There was no evidence of resilience or hints of a rally.
In the process, the Boilermakers illuminated how plodding and out of position and unable to tackle MU was on defense and how it couldn’t execute at all on offense — enough so that a host of former MU players took to Twitter to take jabs at Odom and the program.
As he stepped to the postgame podium, an overwhelmed Odom quietly said, “Trying to figure out how to start this off.”
Really, he had more questions himself than answers.
Asked about his team’s apparent lack of energy, Odom said he didn’t “sense that” but hardly refuted it.
Instead, he rerouted the question to the mystery of what might have happened after their final pregame meeting where “everything felt and looked and smelled right.”
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That was about the most insightful thing he could offer in the somber postgame interview that marked a contrast to his fire after the previous week’s discouraging 31-13 loss to South Carolina.
Maybe because this was a different tier of futility, following up a game that offered no tangible sign of progress with one that demonstrated nothing but regression.
Mizzou running back Damarea Crockett said the Tigers got "smacked in the face" in 35-3 loss to Purdue on Saturday, September 16, 2017.Blair Kerkhoff The Kansas City Star
It was a sad scene, seeing a good man you want to see succeed seemingly stunned as many howled for his job.
The game, and trend, was such a debacle that The Star requested a postgame interview with athletic director Jim Sterk, who declined to comment through an MU spokesperson.
But supportive as Sterk has been publicly of Odom, it bears mention that he inherited Odom and through fundraising has infused unprecedented money into the program. He has to have great expectations.
It would seem unlikely that Sterk would contemplate a change so soon, but this was the sort of game that has to make him take stock of just where he sees the program going.
With Sterk silent, even with social media going berserk, the most significant perspective on the state of the union may have been in the stands.
The announced crowd of 53,262, was well under capacity to begin with and emptied in droves as the day darkened.
Odom said he was thankful for those who did come and added, “If we go and win games, then there will be more fans. If we don’t, there won’t.”
True. And the season also is just three games old.
But … but … but … MU (1-2) already lost what appeared to be its most winnable SEC game, and now Auburn comes to town before the Tigers go to Kentucky and Georgia for the following two games.
And the jarring incompetence on Saturday, which included another binge of penalties (at one point on four straight plays), missed assignments and terrible tackling, compels only cynicism.
It’s one thing to lose, and another to lose by a couple touchdowns.
But it’s something different altogether when minutes into a game you could see that the team was unprepared, evidently unmotivated and outclassed — by a seemingly unimposing foe — and would have no chance to win.
All of that is on Odom, and even those of us who reflexively suggest a second-year coach deserves more time didn’t account for this scenario: a collapse against a team that went 3-9 a year ago and brought in a new coach, Jeff Brohm, a fact that grinds against the idea Odom hasn’t had time to make an impact.
There were times last year when Odom looked overmatched as a first-time head coach, and after a 35-21 home loss last season against Kentucky it seemed clear that Mizzou was in a fragile rebuilding phase, not reloading or retooling.
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock tries to explain Tigers' 35-3 loss to Purdue on Saturday, September 16, 2017.Blair Kerkhoff The Kansas City Star
The one thing that was reassuring by season’s end, though, was that Odom led the Tigers to two wins in their final three games — including with a second-half rally from 17 behind to beat Arkansas in the finale.
That suggested that for all the ups and downs of his first season, including a conflict with defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross that he should have resolved cleanly after the season, Odom still had the attention and faith of his players.
But days after finally firing Cross, a defensive coordinator in name only after Odom pulled rank on him last year, Odom’s team was inexplicably and unacceptably ill-prepared.
That never was more evident than a second-quarter sequence in which MU committed penalties on four straight offensive plays: false start, false start, holding, false start.
Between that and the botched tackles and being outgained 477 yards to 203, it was all suddenly reminiscent of the gloom of what had seemed a bygone era.
Entering this game, the question for Odom was whether he could make strides this season.
Now, the dynamic changes to … can this team even recover?
Toward that end, Odom vowed that he will undertake with staff and players “very frank and honest and open discussions, and sometime they’re really hard to do when you deal in truth and fact and honesty.”
If he can’t demonstrably connect, though, the frank and honest and open discussions can only be about how much longer MU can afford to let him be the coach without falling back into the abyss.