It’s hard to define Missouri’s 35-12 loss against Tennessee as anything other than disappointing. But there was one very clear silver lining within the game: Missouri found its quarterback.
I know, I know. I said the same thing after the Alabama game about a different quarterback. This one feels a bit different.
Shawn Robinson kept the starting quarterback job after the Alabama game because he didn’t do anything worth losing it. Connor Bazelak took the starting quarterback job because he just put together a pretty outstanding game overall.
That may sound like an overstatement based on Bazelak’s final stat line. Trust me when I say the box score is not indicative of how Bazelak played.
This was two plays after Gicinto's dropped TD. Things could've spiraled quickly. Instead, Bazelak improvises after the early snap to make something out of nothing. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/5M0v04egxm— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 7, 2020
Of course, I’m talking about the drops. Man, those pesky drops.
There were “officially” four drops by Mizzou’s receivers. Jalen Knox had two drops on two different third downs that each could have extended the drive. Dominic Gicinto dropped a deep pass that should gone down as a touchdown, but at the very least would have gained 45 yards. Keke Chism dropped a 12-yard gain on a slant across the middle.
This is a play that has to haunt #Mizzou. Gicinto should still be celebrating this TD, but instead the drive eventually stalls & MU settles for 3.— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 7, 2020
Bazelak could've put a little more on it, but he sends it 46 yards in the air to a wide open Gicinto. Gotta have it. pic.twitter.com/gHsLRVkSj3
The final stat sheet shows Bazelak finished the day 13-for-21 with 218 passing yards. If you add in yards that should have been gained if not for drops and assume the receiver would have gone down the moment he caught the ball, Bazelak’s stat line bumps to 17-for-21 for 285 yards.
That’s an 81 percent completion rate and more than 13.5 yards per attempt.
The last time a Mizzou quarterback completed at least 80 percent of his passes on at least 13 yards per attempt was Chase Daniel against Nevada in 2008 (min. 20 attempts).
I went back and watched every pass Bazelak attempted against Tennessee. I came away impressed. He’s confident in the pocket and has the ability to make some really impressive throws— especially outside the numbers on comebacks, corner routes, wheels or fades up the sideline.
Connor Bazelak seems really comfortable throwing outside the numbers. Holds the CB just enough on this play with a shoulder fake toward Badie before throwing the corner route to Damon Hazelton. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/sKir312zoW— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 7, 2020
There were only two critiques of Bazelak’s play coming off of his performance against Tennessee that I think are fair. The first is that he can’t throw the pass that ultimately resulted in his only interception on the day. The Tigers were driving to make it a potential one-score game early in the fourth quarter, and Bazelak tried to make too much happen. Instead of throwing the ball away, he forced a pass to a covered receiver and the comeback attempt was effectively over.
This was Bazelak's worst throw of the day. #Mizzou had the ball inside the Tennessee 30 down 2 scores at the start of the 4th quarter. Pressure got to Bazelak as he's rolling to his right & he tries to throw across his body. INT. Effectively ends the comeback bid. pic.twitter.com/6D2jCqpk7G— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 7, 2020
The only other fair critique - and it’s a small one - is that I would like to see more throws across the middle of the field. I’m not sure if this was more about scheme or personnel, but 18 of Bazelak’s 21 attempts against Tennessee were thrown outside the hash marks, and all 13 of his attempts against Alabama were outside the hashes. It’s something worth watching moving forward.
Bazelak's first third down pass vs. Tennessee was pretty. Climbs the pocket and hits Jalen Knox outside the numbers for an easy first down. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/8apsIvSSbC— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 7, 2020
Guys like Keke Chism and Jalen Knox can do plenty of damage coming open across the middle. Getting them involved on slants and drag routes could be helpful moving forward. It’s not a huge complaint, but it’s worth monitoring.
As a whole, the loss against Tennessee was disappointing. It was fair to expect more when it comes to the final score than a 23-point loss on the road. But I think we’ll all sign up for a silver lining in that loss that results in Bazelak becoming a quality starting quarterback for this year and beyond.