I don’t even know where to start. In a season unlike any other, Eli Drinkwitz and this Missouri Tigers football team have provided Mizzou fans memories that will last a lifetime. The fourth down stop at the goal line against LSU. The dominant rushing performance to end the drought against Kentucky.
And now, this.
Let’s get right into the takeaways, shall we? Because we have to start with the obvious.
1) That win says a lot about the culture Eli Drinkwitz is developing at Missouri
Nick Bolton was ejected for the second quarter for a nonsensical targeting call. Missouri was down 40-26 with seven minutes to play. Arkansas took the lead on a 2-point conversion that went in and out of the arms of linebacker Jamal Brooks, only to land right in Arkansas receiver Mike Woods’ hands.
THIS 2-POINT CONVERSION WAS WILD pic.twitter.com/LGHT7bNpgy— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) December 5, 2020
There were another half-dozen moments when the Tigers could have folded up the tent and accepted their fate as the losing team in the Battle Line Rivalry.
But they just wouldn’t quit.
Martez Manuel came up with a massive pass breakup on an Arkansas third down in the third quarter. Damon Hazelton came down with some massive receptions in the fourth quarter to keep the hope alive. Connor Bazelak seemingly had ice in his veins as the Tigers conducted the comeback. Tyler Badie ran with his hair on fire. Larry Rountree III did what he does. Keke Chism continued his recent run of success. Barrett Bannister had multiple drive-extending catches. Drinkwitz drew up some tremendous play designs.
And the entire time believed.
In the end, the result goes down as a 50-48 victory at home against a 3-6 opponent. The rest of the country might not take notice of a win like that. That’s fine. I can assure you the rest of the SEC is taking notice.
The Tigers have won five of their last six games. Drinkwitz has established himself as, in my opinion, the clear favorite to win SEC Coach of the Year. They just won this game despite facing adversity at seemingly every turn.
This is the kind of team every coach hopes to build. They’re tough as nails and they fight for every inch until the clock hits 0:00.
2) This running game is unbelievable
That’s a heck of a follow-up performance for Rountree after his dominant game against Vanderbilt. He now has 48 carries for 320 yards and six touchdowns over the last two weeks. Rountree’s 185 rushing yards against Arkansas are the most by a Missouri player since he ran for 204 yards in the 2018 Liberty Bowl vs. Oklahoma State.
He wasn’t alone, though. Tyler Badie didn’t have a single carry in the first three quarters of the game. He finished the fourth quarter with six carries for 79 yards and two touchdowns.
The ground game has become the identity for Mizzou football this season. Today’s offensive performance reminded me of a quote from Drinkwitz’s opening press conference.
“We’re going to be quarterback driven,” Drinkwitz said. “We’re going to be able to have a dominant downhill run game, a vertical passing game and we’re going to execute well under pressure.”
That’s exactly how I would describe the offense we’ve seen from Missouri in this six game stretch. They’ve had a dominant downhill run game, and they have certainly executed well under pressure.
3) Connor Bazelak deserves all the credit in the world for his performance under pressure
Bazelak finished the game 32-for-49 for 380 yards. Those are nice stats. The more important figure: Zero. Bazelak threw zero interceptions. And he rarely threw anything that found itself in harms way. That was always going to be the key to this one.
Arkansas is 3-0 this season in games in which the Razorbacks win the turnover margin. They’re now 0-3 when they fail to force a turnover.
Bazelak’s ability to take deep shots without putting the ball at risk has been one of the key components to his success this season. His five touchdown passes in eight games won’t jump off the page. That will improve in time, but it’s also partially by design. Missouri’s dominant running game is how the offense has capped off most of its drives.
Bazelak has now thrown for at least 300 yards with zero interceptions three times this season, all against power five opponents. Drew Lock, for comparison, did that just twice in his career against power five competition. The last time a Tigers quarterback had three such games against power five opponents in a single season was Blaine Gabbert in the 2009 season.
It’s not that Bazelak is a perfect quarterback. He’s certainly not. But he has some really high level traits that I can’t wait to see Drinkwitz work with over the next three or four seasons. And his ability to come through in the clutch is second to none. It’s been a heck of a start to the story and we’re still not finished with the first chapter.
4) We have to talk about that targeting call on Nick Bolton
The targeting rule had good intentions. I understand what the NCAA was going for. They were sick of seeing the punishing blows as a receiver goes across the middle and they needed to find a way to incentivize defensive players to avoid making those devastating hits. I get it. I really do.
But the rule has devolved into something as reckless as the hits it is supposed to prevent.
Bolton’s hit late in the second quarter was not, by the letter of the law, targeting. I’m pretty confident of that. But even if it was, it certainly was not a hit worthy of ejection.
ain't no way this is targeting on Nick Bolton. SEC gonna have to explain why Mizzou's best defensive player got yanked for no reason. pic.twitter.com/S1oqQ4ghOj— Mark Kim (@MarkJKim_) December 5, 2020
This is where something needs to change.
If college football wants to continue penalizing these big hits across the middle, so be it. I can disagree with it all I want while still understanding what they’re trying to accomplish. But there has to be some kind of leeway for the ejections that result from these targeting calls.
If the hit is reckless and deemed ‘dirty’, go ahead and follow through with the ejection. I have no issue with that, and I’m sure most college football fans wouldn’t, either. The problem is when a play like Bolton’s takes place that is well within the normal flow of a football game, and the result is a player getting ejected from the game. That’s ridiculous. And it solves nothing.
5) God bless our wonderful Thiccer
Harrison Mevis has been such a tremendous addition for this team. He came into the game 11-for-14 on field goals and a perfect 18-for-18 on extra points.
He finished this game 5-for-5 on field goals and 5-for-5 on extra points. He directly contributed to 20 of Missouri’s 50 points. And he came through clutch with the biggest kick of all.
It’s pretty rare to feel confident about a college kicker attempting a potentially game-winning kick as time expires. It’s even less rare to feel that confidence about a freshman kicker doing it for the first time in a rivalry game after the opposing coach has called his final two timeouts specifically to ice the kicker.
But I never once thought Mevis would miss the 32-yard kick to win the game. I had full confidence that kick would go through the uprights.
Kickers are a lot like relievers in baseball. It’s one thing to have good numbers. It’s another thing entirely for a fan to have confidence in that reliever or kicker when they come into the game in a critical spot. Mevis has inspired that kind of confidence and belief in his first year on campus.
God bless the Thiccer. Being a kicker can be a thankless job, but who knows where this team would be without him.