It wasn’t always pretty, but it counts all the same. Welcome back to the top of the SEC East standings, Mizzou fans. It’s been a minute.
I want to start out by saying I underestimated that Ole Miss team. John Rhys Plumlee can flat out run. I have no idea if he can throw, but man, can he run. Missouri had its hands full with him all night. That offense is fun to watch. I wouldn’t be surprised if they pull off an upset against someone down the stretch.
But we’re not here for Ole Miss talk. We’re here for Missouri takeaways! And I’ve got plenty of them.
Without further ado, my top five takeaways from Missouri’s blue collar win against Ole Miss.
Everything is back on the table for Missouri.
And when I say everything, I mean literally everything. At the mid-season point, the Tigers are officially in first place in the SEC East. Florida still has to travel to take on a pesky South Carolina team, and they have a head-to-head matchup against Georgia. Georgia still has tough cross-divisional matchups at Auburn and against Texas A&M.
Nothing is assured for Mizzou. The Tigers still have to take care of business, and they will probably have to pull off one upset against either Florida or Georgia.
But if they can do that, a third SEC East title in eight years since joining the conference is very much on the table.
This season is starting to have a bit of a 2014 feel to it. That was the year Mizzou lost to Indiana in week four, and got completely demolished by Georgia at home... But still found a way to win the division.
I think this team has the potential to pull off a similar comeback after that puzzling Wyoming loss.
On a completely unrelated note, could you please Make it Right, NCAA?
Missouri’s most important offensive pieces stepped up against the Rebels.
Kelly Bryant didn’t have his best day as a Tiger, but when Mizzou needed a play, he found a way to make it. He converted three third downs with his legs. He made a huge throw on 3rd & 6 deep with less than six minutes to play in the 4th quarter to Johnathon Johnson with the game potentially on the line. Those are the kinds of plays you expect out of a fifth year senior with championship game experience.
It was good to see Larry Rountree III look like himself again. He was running hard all game long, and he finally saw the results. His 41-yard touchdown run was just his first run of more than 30 yards all season. He looked like the player we all expected him to be coming into the season. If he starts hitting his stride as the Tigers get into the teeth of their SEC schedule, look out.
I want to give some love to Johnathon Johnson for what he did on the offensive side of the ball. We’ll get to the muffed punt in a bit, but Johnson was clutch as can be in this game on offense. He finished with Missouri’s first 100-yard receiving game of the season. Three of his receptions came on critical third downs. Two other receptions resulted in chunk plays for the Tigers in the passing game. He stepped up with his biggest game of the season in a game when Mizzou needed it most.
The last guy I want to be sure to mention is Derek Dooley. Dooley doesn’t get a ton of love from Mizzou fans, but he should after tonight’s game. There were two plays in particular tonight that were designed brilliantly. One was the Tyler Badie touchdown on a screen pass in the 3rd quarter. On the same drive, he used an exotic pre-snap motion to freed up Johnathon Johnson to convert a key third down. Dooley gets a lot of hate, but he had some truly great moments against Ole Miss.
That last drive of the night reminded me of another drive against Ole Miss.
Missouri got the ball at its own two-yard line up 38-27 with 5:51 to play. A lot of teams run the ball into the line three times and punt it, praying for their defense to come up with a key stop in that situation. Not Mizzou. Not on this drive.
The Tigers came out passing, and Ole Miss committed a targeting penalty on the first play of the drive. Missouri then converts a critical 3rd & 6, and finally the beautiful 3rd & 1 in which Larry Rountree drove the pile 2 yards to ice the game.
In the end, the Tigers’ final drive was 11 plays, traveled 67 yards, and took the final 5:51 off the clock. That’s a thing of beauty.
It also felt a bit like deja vu.
Mizzou had an eerily similar drive against Ole Miss the last time these teams met back in 2013. The Tigers got the ball up 24-10 at their own 13-yard line with 8:08 to play. They converted three third downs on a drive that lasted 15 plays, traveled 61 yards and drained the final 8:08 off the clock.
A thing of beauty. Those are the kinds of drives that quality teams are able to put together when they need them. That experience will come in handy down the road.
We all wondered what the loss of Cale Garrett would mean. Well, we found out.
The Tigers’ defense didn’t have their best night, but they did find a way to come up with critical stops when they needed them. The goal-line stand is as big as it gets, and the fourth down stop after Kelly Bryant’s interception in the fourth quarter was huge.
But there was just something missing. That something was obvious. It was the heart and soul of the defense, Cale Garrett.
Garrett makes up for so many mistakes. He erases the middle of the field. He plugs gaps other players don’t see until it’s too late. He spies quarterbacks and forces turnovers. He’s the all-everything linebacker that every team needs. And he was doing it next to another tremendous player in Nick Bolton.
Bolton was really good once again against Ole Miss. But for Mizzou to be an elite level defense the way the Tigers were for the first five weeks of the season, they need both linebackers in the lineup. The ceiling for the defense comes down without Garrett in the lineup. We knew that coming into this game. The game against Ole Miss was just confirmation of what we already knew.
The special teams were a mess.
I gave high marks to Johnathon Johnson for the way he played on offense, but my goodness did he have a tough night on special teams. The muffed punt to open the game put the Tigers behind the eight ball. And for the life of me I can not understand what Johnson was trying to do on the final kickoff of the game when he took a knee at the 1-yard line.
But he wasn’t alone. It was also a rough night for Tucker McCann on extra points. He was 4-for-4 on field goals, but missed two of his four extra point attempts. He was perfect on extra points coming into the game and only missed two of 50 attempts a year ago. Hopefully this is simply a blip on the radar, but it was tough to see for a kicker who has come as far as McCann has over the past few years.