The Missouri Tigers went to Starkville to close out the 2020 regular season on Saturday, and they looked outclassed for nearly the entirety of this game.
It looked promising to start when the Tigers marched down the field for a 7-0 lead to start. However, after that, it was all Bulldogs thanks to plenty of self-inflicted wounds by the Tigers.
Despite the Mizzou defense forcing a punt on their first drive, the Tiger special team’s early-season demons came back to haunt them. Cade Musser was the culprit this time as he muffed the Bulldogs punt that was eventually recovered in the endzone for a Mississippi State TD and a tie game.
The miscues continued for the Tigers on offense. A bad snap led to a loss of 16 yards on the first play of the drive, and a punt followed three plays later. With all the momentum on their side, Will Rodgers and the Bulldogs marched right down the field to take a 14-7 lead with 3:33 left in the first.
When asked about what went wrong in this early momentum change, Head Coach Eli Drinkwitz said in the post game, “We started fast, the momentum switched, and we were never able to recapture it.” He added, “We have to be able to respond to the ebbs and flows of football games.”
Later in the half, the Bulldogs were up 17-10 and kept riding high when Mike Leach dialed up a near-perfect drive. In the blink of an eye, the Bulldogs led 24-10 as the second half wound down. If the Bulldogs didn't have enough momentum at that point, they certainly did when Emmanuel Forbes picked off Connor Bazelak soon after. Following the first of 3 Bazelak interceptions on the day, a Brandon Ruiz FG went through the uprights as time expired, and Mississippi State went into the locker room leading 27-10.
When the teams returned from intermission, not much changed. Mississippi State received the second half kick and RB Jalen Marks added another TD. The Tigers answered the TD by going 3 & out, but did get a jolt of life in the form of an Eli Rodgers fumble deep in Bulldog territory, which was recovered by Kobie Whiteside. Four plays later, Connor Bazelak found Keke Chism in the end zone for a TD and a 2-point conversion a play later. That score cut the Tiger deficit to 34-18.
Needing to keep that momentum, for the first time all game, the defense delivered. With Mississippi State driving, Safety Joshuah Bledsoe delivered another clutch play in a senior season that has been full of them when he picked off Rodgers in the endzone.
However, for the Tigers, the miscues continued, and Connor Bazelak returned the favor with a pick of his own, putting out any momentum they had built. On the ensuing drive, Rodgers threw his 3rd TD of the game and put away any comeback hopes the Tigers had with 13:26 to play behind a 41-18 lead.
The rest of the game was just a formality. The final score would finish 51-32 in favor of Mike Leach’s squad, but it really wasn’t close. However, the lone bright spot for the Tigers came from Shawn Robinson.
The former QB made an impressive debut performance at Safety that included five tackles and an incredible interception. After the game, Eli Drinkwitz said, “I think that move is permanent. He’s excited about it.”
The rest of the Tigers seemed to try a little too hard and had no answer for anything the Bulldogs threw at them. Connor Bazelak uncharacteristically turned it over, and the defense couldn’t tackle or stop the Air Raid that featured a surprising amount of rushing attempts.
Coach Drinkwitz put it well in his postgame, “I thought we pressed early, trying to force the ball when we didn’t need to be,” and Larry Rountree added more of the same, “Mistakes get you beat, you can’t make mistakes in the SEC.”