Offensive struggles have been pretty common for Missouri over the last few weeks, and it didn’t look like they would get any better when the Tigers hit the road to face No. 6 Georgia on Saturday.
With the quarterback situation up in the air throughout the week due to Kelly Bryant’s hamstring injury, eyes turned to backup Taylor Powell. He had come on for Bryant in the third quarter of the loss to Kentucky, taking the first meaningful snaps of his college career. While he didn’t look great (4-for-10, 34 yards), he didn’t look awful, so there was at least some optimism when it was revealed Powell would start against the Bulldogs.
Nobody expected Missouri to win. Almost nobody expected it to be close. But the Tigers, with the talent they still had at the skills position, would put together at least some semblance of a competent offense, right?
With Powell in the game, Missouri racked up a whopping total of just 113 total yards. Powell was 10-for-22 throwing the ball for 84 yards. The running game never got going, picking up just 50 yards on the ground. The receivers had a hard time getting open all night.
The Tigers crossed midfield just once while he was in the game, but Powell tried to force the ball to Albert Okwuegbunam in double coverage and ended up getting picked off in the red zone.
The defense continued to do everything it could to keep Missouri in the game. Its performance was the definition of bending but not breaking for about 41 minutes and 41 seconds.
In between Georgia touchdowns at the 10:43 mark in the first quarter and the 14:02 mark in the fourth quarter, the Tigers kept the Bulldogs out of the end zone on eight consecutive drives, allowing just four field goals in the process. Going up against the No. 6 team in the country, there’s not a whole lot more the defense can be expected to do.
But Powell and Co. did absolutely nothing to repay the defense’s effort. Six three-and-outs, nine punts, a turnover on downs and Powell’s interception were all the offense had to show for its performance.
Not until Connor Bazelak replaced Powell in the fourth quarter did the offense show any sign of life.
Bazelak was impressive, picking up 55 yards through the air on his first drive and leading Missouri all the way to Georgia’s 4-yard line. He ended the day 6-for-8 for 64 yards, and had it not been for incompletions on third and fourth down passes to Jonathan Nance and Dominic Gicinto, he would’ve had his first touchdown.
The offense looked much more competent than it had been all night in Bazelak’s limited time, especially considering he was still facing the Bulldogs’ starters. With Powell not playing well, it’s on the coaches that Bazelak wasn’t in earlier. Head coach Barry Odom and offensive coordinator Derek Dooley trust Powell as the top option behind Bryant, sure, but the offense probably needed a different look long before Bazelak finally got in the game.
Unlike when Alabama brought in Tua Tagovailoa to lead a comeback against Georgia in the National Championship, it would’ve been unfair to expect Powell to come in and perform without any dropoff. However, he should’ve been expected to help show that the offense wasn’t dead.
If there’s any bit of optimism to come from the game, it’s that Powell at least looked confident. He was a little conservative early, but gained confidence later on and showed he wasn’t scared to throw deep.
But that doesn’t matter much when the point of playing football is winning. Powell can have all the confidence in the world, but when the team can barely pick up a first down, that’s an issue. This loss is on the offense as a whole. It’s on the coaches, the quarterback, the receivers... everyone.
It’s impossible to know whether the Tigers would’ve played any better under Bryant, considering how dominant the Bulldogs’ defense is. But it would be almost impossible to play any worse than Missouri’s offense played Saturday.