There’s no shame in losing to one of the 10 best teams in the country. However you felt about Eli Drinkwitz’s debut season coming into this game is the same way you should feel about the season after the loss.
I know there was some excitement surrounding this game against Georgia. It was deserved. Missouri gave fans plenty to be optimistic about over the last couple months. But this was always going to be a tough task. I had a number of friends text me this week asking if I thought Missouri could cover the 14-point spread. I said no every time. The talent gap was just too wide.
We saw that talent gap on full display in the Tigers’ 49-14loss against the Bulldogs. Missouri made just enough big plays to make the score look close in the first half, but eventually the disparity between the two teams was too much to ignore.
Let’s dive into the top five takeaways from a disappointing, but not disheartening, loss in Missouri’s final home game of the year.
1) Missouri deserves a lot of credit for keeping it close as long as the Tigers could
The Tigers were undermanned on defense going into the game. Kobie Whiteside and Jarvis were ruled out with injuries. Tre Williams opted out and entered the transfer portal earlier in the week. Freshman center Drake Heismeyer got snaps along the defensive line because of how little depth Missouri had along that unit.
That’s not the recipe for success against a Georgia offense that finally seems to be hitting its stride. Bulldogs quarterback JT Daniels threw for 540 yards and six touchdowns in his first two starts. Georgia’s running backs combined for 350 rushing yards and four touchdowns last week against Mississippi State. This is a completely different offense with Daniels at the helm. Unfortunately the Tigers defense was simply the next opponent on the schedule.
Georgia with a healthy JT Daniels is a different animal.— Peter Burns (@PeterBurnsESPN) December 12, 2020
The Tigers came up with just enough stops to make things interesting in the first half, going into halftime trailing 21-14. The levees broke in the third quarter when the Bulldogs racked up 21 points and 285 yards of total offense while averaging more than 12 yards per play. The result was a commanding 42-14 lead going into the fourth quarter. The game was, more or less, over. Give the Tigers credit. They held on as long as they could. Georgia jut proved to be too much.
2) That’s what it looks like when one team has way more talent than the other
The vast majority of Missouri’s players on the current roster come from the 2017-2021 classes. Those recruiting classes ranked 49th, 39th, 34th and 54th overall (per Rivals). That’s an average recruiting class ranking over the last four years of 44th in the country.
Georgia’s recruiting classes over that span ranked third, first, first and first. Based on those rankings, the Bulldogs should be - quite literally - the most talented team in the country this season. The most noticeable talent gap between the two teams came in the trenches. Six 5-star offensive linemen and eight 4-star offensive linemen committed to Georgia over the last four years. The defensive line isn’t much different where the Bulldogs landed a commitment from two 5-star and 12 4-star defensive linemen between 2017-2020.
Where did Drinkwitz see the biggest personnel advantage for Georgia? "In the trenches on both sides."— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) December 12, 2020
That’s 28 players on the offensive or defensive line ranked as at least 4-star players in Georgia’s four most recent recruiting classes. Daniel Parker Jr. is Missouri’s only 4-star commit along the offensive or defensive line in the last four years. He’s now playing tight end.
What you saw on Saturday was a result four years in the making. Recruiting rankings on an individual basis do not always matter. A two star can be every bit as good as a five star. But recruiting is like blackjack. You play the odds. Over time, four and five star recruits tend to have more success in college than two or three star recruits. When one team has 28 of those players in the trenches and the other has one, well, this is what it looks like.
3) That loss is a reminder of why Eli Drinkwitz’s recruiting success is such a big deal
There is a silver lining. Missouri recruited at a top 50 level over the last four seasons, but Drinkwitz’s recruiting is clearly at a different level. Drinkwitz’s 2021 class is the 19th best class in the country, according to Rivals. Drinkwitz already has six 4-star commits in the 2021 and 2022 classes. That’s the same number of 4-star commits as the Tigers had between 2016-2020 combined.
We’ve seen what Drinkwitz can do when the talent is similar. The Tigers were 4-0 with a +60 point differential against Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Arkansas. Missouri is 1-3 with a -101 point differential against Alabama, Tennessee, LSU and Georgia.
Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Arkansas tend to recruit in that 20-50 range. Alabama, Tennessee, LSU and Georgia are consistent top 15 recruiters. It’s not hard to see the disparity on the field. Drinkwitz has done exceptionally well against opponents with similar talent to Missouri. That’s a sign of a well coached team.
Remember Tiger fans: this game is more of a reminder of how much Drink has accomplished with so little. Mizzou isn’t ready to hang with the blue bloods yet but has drastically improved recruiting and brought competence to the management of this program. Things are still good here— Nate Edwards (@NateGEdwards) December 12, 2020
If this is what he can do with top 50 talent on the roster, what can he do when he has top 25 talent?
That’s what should have Missouri fans excited about the future of this program.
4) It was pretty sweet to see Drinkwitz’s homage to an all-time great Mizzou football moment
Missouri’s win at Georgia in 2013 will forever go down as one of my all-time favorite college football games. The we’ll never forget was Bud Sasser’s double-pass that we now know as “Colt 45.”
Mizzou's double passes vs. Georgia— Mark Kim (@MarkJKim_) December 12, 2020
2013 vs. 2020 pic.twitter.com/8HmWfYAQzA
The touchdown in 2013 all but sealed the victory and suddenly put Missouri back in the driver’s seat to win the SEC East. The near touchdown on Saturday kept the Tigers in the game and gave them an opportunity to make things interesting. Obviously, it didn’t work out the way it did in 2013. But it was a heck of a play nonetheless.
5) A few more quick thoughts after the loss...
It’s hard to take too much from a 49-14 blowout in a game that was all but determined by the end of the third quarter. But there are a few quick-hitting thoughts I had after the game.
- Martez Manuel seems to be in on every big play defensively lately. A sack and two tackles for loss against Georgia kept that momentum going. He has two pass deflections, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss in his last four games. Losing Joshuah Bledsoe and Tyree Gillespie after the season is going to hurt, but Manuel’s development means the Tigers will have at least one safety with game-changing talent back in 2021.
- Speaking of Gillespie, he’s made himself some NFL money this season. I don’t know where he’ll be selected in the upcoming NFL Draft, but I’m pretty confident we’ll hear his name after his performance this year. He’s all over the place. He had the hit of the game on Saturday when he absolutely crushed JT Daniels on a heck of a blitz.
- It seems pretty clear the Tigers need to add an instant-impact linebacker before next season. Maybe that’s via the transfer portal. Maybe it’s a late Junior College addition. I’m not sure. We saw the drop in play last week when Nick Bolton missed the second half. We saw a few rough angles on Saturday against Georgia. That’s a position that could seemingly use an upgrade in the offseason.