FAYETTEVILLE -- The SEC's hottest football team not named Alabama is playing the Arkansas Razorbacks on Friday.
Missouri (6-5, 3-5 SEC) has won five consecutive games since losing at Georgia 53-28 on Oct. 14.
The No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide (11-0) have the only longer winning streak among SEC teams.
"Without question we're playing our best football right now, and we're playing it at the right time," Missouri Coach Barry Odom said. "Also, I'm very confident we can play a lot better in every area. It's our focus to get that done this week."
All of the teams Missouri has beaten during its winning streak -- Idaho, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt -- have losing records. But the Tigers have beaten those teams with a combined 18-35 record by an average of 35.4 points.
Missouri's 28-point victory at Vanderbilt on Saturday, 45-17, is the closest an opponent has played the Tigers during the winning streak, and they led the Commodores 35-0 at halftime.
The Tigers are the 14th FBS team to become bowl eligible after a 1-5 start and the second from the SEC, along with Ole Miss in 1983.
"They've been able to flip the switch," Razorbacks Coach Bret Bielema said. "It doesn't matter who they're playing, they've taken advantage of key moments.
"They've exercised their game plan. I have a lot of respect for Barry. I've known him for a while. He's got them playing at a high, high level in a short amount of time after some setbacks.
"He just stayed the course, and they stayed the course with him, and good things happened."
Odom, a former Missouri linebacker in his second season as his alma mater's coach after being promoted from defensive coordinator, promised a turnaround after Auburn's 51-14 pounding of the Tigers at Faurot Field on Sept. 23.
"Anyway you slice it or dice it or want to look at it, this is a turnaround process," Odom said in his postgame news conference. "I know what I've got in the locker room. We're going to win. That's going to happen."
The Tigers showed signs of life the next week in a 40-34 loss at Kentucky, then after the Georgia game they really got rolling.
Missouri has revived its season with an explosive offense and big-play defense.
Junior quarterback Drew Lock has completed 199 of 343 passes for 3,247 yards and a nation-leading 38 touchdown passes with 10 interceptions.
"He's made a lot of great progress," Odom said. "Some of that is understanding even more what we need out of that position.
"He's always understood it. It's on full display now. I still think he can play a lot better. But he's taken such great ownership in wanting and willing this team to keep on pushing to try and achieve things maybe we haven't thought about doing."
Despite the loss of Damarea Crockett -- a sophomore from Little Rock Christian who rushed for a team-best 1,062 yards last year -- to a shoulder injury six games into this season, the Tigers have produced a strong running game behind senior Ish Witter and freshman Larry .
Witter has rushed 132 times for 822 yards and Rountree has 97 carries for 577 yards.
Lock's top targets are senior J'Mon Moore (50 catches for 857 yards and 9 touchdowns) and sophomore Johnathon Johnson (37 catches for 615 yards and 5 touchdowns).
Defensively, Missouri leads the SEC with 85 tackles for losses totaling 296 yards, including 29 sacks for 168 yards.
The Tigers have 27 players with at least one tackle for lost yards, led by junior linebacker Terez Hall (11 for 22 yards), senior end Marcell Frazier (10 for 56) and junior tackle Terry Beckner (9½ for 85).
The Tigers have averaged 556.2 yards during the winning streak, held opponents to 333.0 yards and are plus-7 on turnovers.
"You're always looking for positives," Odom said of holding the team together after the 1-5 start. "You can always find some positives in there.
"We had to search harder than normal during that stretch to look at things, but also took why we weren't achieving success on the field on Saturdays and the reasons.
"We could circle back to the reasons we weren't executing completely. We were able to paint a picture for them ... More than anything open communication and honesty."
Odom said he wouldn't recommend going through what Missouri did in the first half of the season as a way to force changes and progress.
"But you never know how the story's going to play out," he said. "You've got to focus on one game at a time, one play at a time. You've got to worry about executing and getting in position.
"The game's decided long before the arena. The process of really, really preparing, being focused and dialed in mentally on all the things you need to do preparation-wise and then going and executing.
"Our habits in today's practice, those show up on Saturday. That's the way this game works."
Sports on 11/22/2017
Print Headline: Tigers change stripes