Frustrated and dissatisfied with a 1-2 start and a 32-point home blowout to Purdue, Missouri’s players called a meeting Monday night that initially included coach Barry Odom and eventually became a players-only session.
An unlikely voice led the group: freshman linebacker Aubrey Miller.
It was a conference to vent frustrations, address shortcomings and raise energy.
“Obviously, we’re not happy with our performances the last two weeks,” tight end Jason Reese said. “It’s more or less the sense of urgency has to be heightened because there’s nine games left. We want to make the most out of those last nine games.”
Multiple players, including Reese, singled out Miller — who this season has mostly contributed on special teams — as the meeting’s most prominent voice.
“He wants to play football,” senior linebacker Terez Hall said. “He’s on special teams working as hard as he possibly can. You had a couple guys. K-9,” Dimetrios Mason. “Everybody basically stepped up.
“Who spoke most? It was probably Aubrey Miller.”
Miller was recruited as a three-star linebacker out of Whitehaven High School in Memphis, Tenn. He led Whitehaven to a 15-0 record and Tennessee Class 6A state championship his senior year, earning All-Region 6A, All-Shelby Metro Team, All-Tennessee Team and Autozone Liberty Bowl Defensive Player of the Year honors along the way.
He didn’t bring up any of his prior accolades, Hall said. Miller spoke about the lack of energy on the sidelines. He criticized players for defeated body language after giving up a score. He talked about his expectations for Missouri’s senior leaders.
Miller taking the lead wasn’t surprising just because he was a freshman. He’s known for being a fun-loving guy.
“He’s a goofy guy. He’s really goofy,” Hall said. “But he plays hard. That’s the reason why I like him so much. That’s why I chose him as my little brother. I believe he believes in what I believe in. Going hard, practicing hard.”
Missouri’s seniors welcomed the input.
“It’s great,” Reese said. “That means we have guys who are eager to win. If we have a whole bunch of people on this team who are stagnant in their mind-set, it’s not good. I think it’s good to have the younger guys step up. It shows the older guys that those younger guys are willing to fight for us.”
“We had some guys step up, some younger guys step up and tell us where they think this team needs to go and what they expect from leaders,” senior cornerback Logan Cheadle said. … “It’s good to hear that people care. Guys aren’t just sitting there, especially guys that maybe aren’t in the game. You get to see what they see on the sidelines, the body language they see from the sidelines. What they see from us when big plays happen or things like that.”
Reese said that Odom was present for the first part of the voluntary meeting before the players took over.
“We just wanted to talk to him and tell him where we’re at,” Reese said. “He didn’t say much, but this is our team. If we want things to change, ultimately, it has to be through us first.”
J’Mon Moore and Cheadle emphasized Reese’s assertion that at a certain point, the players have to make their own success.
“A lot of guys stepped up and said what needed to be said about where we want to take this season from here,” Cheadle said. “I think we’ll find that out in turn within ourselves, and the players have got to step up because the coaches are doing everything they can, putting a game plan in front of us, putting us in the right position. We just gotta make the plays. Simple as that.”
The blowout against Purdue spurred the action. Reese and Cheadle said that they were displeased with Missouri’s pregame warmup.
The offense sputtered for the second week in a row. The defense regressed from the progress that was made during the South Carolina game.
“It was most definitely a step back,” Hall said. “We came in and let Purdue run all over us. Guys weren’t tackling well. Offense didn’t come out ready. We thought it would be a breeze because they were Purdue or something like that. But they got players just like we got players. That’s what you get when you don’t come out ready.”
Reese and Cheadle took an optimistic tone, inspired by the proactivity of Missouri’s young players — particularly Miller.
Hall was more emotional, believing that the Tigers have to take the field wanting to play.
“You either want to play or you don’t want to play,” he said. “It’s all about putting the players who want to be out on the field out there.”
Moore, though, was more introspective. His tone was more frustrated than the others’.
“A lot of guys put a lot into this team,” Moore said. “It’s not showing right now. We’re trying to figure out what it is. We’re trying to get over this hump. We just got to get it figured out. … This might be one of the hardest times I’ve seen, just because I know we have so much talent and we worked so hard. It’s kind of confusing to me right now. I can’t really grasp what it is.
“All we can do is keep working. I’m going to continue to play. I know we’re going to break through.”