It wasn’t all bad, but it certainly wasn’t the moral victory Mizzou fans were hoping for as the Tigers dropped to 0-2 with a 35-12 loss on the road at Tennessee. Eli Drinkwitz showed some fancy play designs, the Tigers offense showed signs of life with a new quarterback under center, and the defense made a couple of big plays.
But the Vols were simply too much for the Tigers to handle. Here are my top five takeaways from the tough road loss against Tennessee.
1) So, about that QB competition...
I said after last week’s game Mizzou didn’t have a QB controversy. Shawn Robinson was clearly the starter going into the game, and he did nothing to lose that job. I stand by that. This week, things changed.
Robinson started and played the entire first quarter for the Tigers. Mizzou finished that quarter with nine plays for 13 total yards, including zero yards through the air. Mizzou held the ball for less than five minutes in the quarter. It wasn’t that the offense was touch-and-go. It was stuck in the mud.
Then Connor Bazelak came in for his scripted series to open up the second quarter, just as he did last week against Alabama. He instantly brought a jolt of energy to the offense. On his first drive, Bazelak calmly collected an early snap and converted a third down pass to Jalen Knox. Later in the drive, he pushed the ball down the field with a big-time throw to Damon Hazelton. The drive stalled on a dropped third down pass to Jalen Knox, but Bazelak did enough to warrant another drive.
And then he kept doing enough to stay in the game. Robinson didn’t take another snap in the game. Just as Robinson earned the playing time a week ago, Bazelak earned the playing time against the Vols. Bazelak finished the day 13-for-21 for 218 passing yards and an interception. It wasn’t always perfect, but it was enough to warrant an extended look for Bazelak once again when the Tigers take on LSU.
Watch: Here's Bazelak to Christopherson's fourth down connection. The drive ended in a Rountree TD to get MU back in the game. Huge play. pic.twitter.com/45qrjJa4Ob— Andrew Kauffman (@AndrewABC17) October 3, 2020
2) Mizzou’s quarterbacks aren’t getting enough help from their receivers
The official stats from the game show five dropped passes by Mizzou pass-catchers. It feels like that might even be a bit low. And it’s not just the dropped passes; it’s when they happened. Knox dropped multiple third down passes that could have extended drives. Dominic Gicinto dropped what could have been a touchdown pass on a well-designed deep pass over the middle.
This is the second-straight week that the drops have been an issue. I was high on Mizzou’s offensive weapons coming into the season. I still think it’s a pretty talented group. But the drops have to be corrected.
On a related note, we’re now two weeks into Keke Chism’s college career and he has a total of three receptions on six targets for 40 yards. This is not a critique of Chism, but it’s surprising to see such a low volume role for the most hyped Mizzou player at fall camp.
3) Mizzou’s defense could not handle that Tennessee running game
The Tigers struggled mightily to defend the Vols’ power running game. Tennessee’s running backs finished the day with 40 carries for 218 rushing yards and two touchdowns. This was an issue for Mizzou a year ago, too. Wyoming, Ole Miss and Kentucky each rushed for more than 200 yards against the Tigers’ defense.
Missouri’s linebackers not named Nick Bolton really struggled with run fits. Tennessee’s offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage and there were far too many missed tackles in the open field.
4) Tennessee is better than expected
It’s hard not to be impressed by the way the Volunteers played in that game. Their offensive line dominated. Their speed defensively made it nearly impossible for the Tigers to run any of the misdirection or sideline-to-sideline plays they like to use. Their running game was tremendous. And they have some really impressive speed and playmakers at receiver.
I’m still not sure Jarrett Guarantano is going to lead that team to a division title, but Tennessee very well may be the second team in the SEC East this season. They’re typically my annual pick for most overrated team in the division. I don’t think that will be the case this season.
5) Mizzou found itself one heck of a kicker
You love to see it. Harrison Mevis is now 4-for-4 to start his career with makes from 27, 27, 37 & 50 yards out.
He’s also fun as hell to watch. He doesn’t look like your typical kicker (as the great Nate Edwards has noted, he’s more of a thiccer), but he kicks the heck out of the ball and he tends to kick it right through the uprights. It might seem like a small thing, but having a reliable kickers will come in handy over the next few years.