Well, hey, that was... uh... I guess... it was something?
There really aren’t words to describe how disappointing tonight’s 51-32 loss in Starkville was. Earlier this week, Nate and BK spoke about the matchup on Before the Box Score and openly admitted they were worried. Missouri has been crushed by a wave of injuries, COVID and opt-outs over the last few weeks of the season. Yet they traveled to Mississippi State to take on a team led by Mike-Air-Raid-Leach. Say what you will about the Bulldogs this year, a Leach team is always a threat to blow up.
And blow up they did, enough to knock Missouri firmly on its ass.
Let’s look at three takeaways from the deflating loss to end the regular season.
1) The defense was capital-B Bad, but consider the context
Let’s make no mistake — Missouri’s defense was horrific in the last three games of the season. The Tigers gave 45+ points in three straight games. They let the SEC’s worst ground attack rack up 151 yards on 5.4 yards per carry. True freshman Will Rogers looked comfortable all day long. Coverages were blown, tackles were missed... no matter what you say, the performance was Bad.
But, you know, this also happened.
Mizzou is having to play a freshman receiver and the season's starting quarterback in the secondary.— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) December 19, 2020
The Tigers’ secondary, already a question mark, had absolutely no depth. Anyone who has watched Nick Bolton the past few weeks can tell you he’s playing hurt. Apparently, the entire defensive line was doing so as well!
So, yes, Missouri’s defense performed poorly. Ryan Walters should probably have to answer some questions about the past few games. But you’d be kidding yourself if you didn’t take into consideration the laundry list of injuries and opt-outs the unit faced over the back half of the season.
2) Man, the offense needs some help
Larry Rountree III rushed for 121 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns. Seems pretty good, right? Unfortunately, that was about all Mizzou had going for it on offense.
Saturday night was easily Connor Bazelak’s worst as the Tiger’s starter. After some early pressure from the Bulldogs, the freshman never got back into a groove. He consistently missed open receivers — when they were open, that is — and telegraphed a lot of throws, leading to some ugly interceptions. Even his second touchdown to Niko Hea was a prayer into triple coverage. He wasn’t the cool, unflappable customer Tiger fans have become used to seeing week in and week out, and it was unfortunate to watch.
Connor Bazelak throws his third interception of the night, this one goes for a pick-six. Season-high in points for the Bulldogs.— Souichi Terada (寺田惣一) (@SouichiTerada) December 19, 2020
Mississippi State 51, Missouri 25. 5:28 left to go.
It’s not as if he had a lot of help, though. Missouri’s receivers were inconsistent at best. Keke Chism led the team with 64 yards and a touchdown, but also failed to make a play on the ball on one of Bazelak’s underthrows, leading to an interception. Damon Hazelton looked great in his three catches, but was largely invisible. And Tyler Badie... wait, Tyler Badie played in this game?!
Eli Drinkwitz was hired to revamp Missouri’s offense, and they responded well to adversity for most of the year. Saturday night, however, revealed that there’s still a lot of work to do on that side of the ball. Let’s hope Drink can convince some of the seniors to stick around another year and that the vaunted 2021 class can provide some instant impact.
3) If you’re feeling flustered, take a breath
That’s right. Deep breaths.
In... and out.
In... and out.
Tonight was not fun. By all accounts, Missouri entered this game as the better team and looked anything but for four straight hours. The game was effectively over in the middle of the third quarter. That’s never good, and Missouri had no one to blame but themselves.
Let’s take a step back, then, and remember where things stood two weeks ago. Missouri was 5-3 and not critically injured at several key positions. The national spotlight was on Columbia, and everything felt positive. The last two weeks weren’t at all fun, but the 2020 season was bananas as hell. The crazy train just so happened to hit Mizzou hard in the final portion of the season.
Just remember Tiger fans, this loss means N O T H I N G. Regardless of what happens today and in the bowl game, this season is an unmitigated success.— Nate Edwards (@NateGEdwards) December 19, 2020
During the summer, most pundits and analysts picked Missouri to win 2 games... 3 tops. They won 5.
When Eli Drinkwitz was hired, people wondered if he could recruit at the SEC level. Earlier this week, he signed Mizzou’s best recruiting class of the modern era.
In a few weeks, Missouri is going to play in a pretty good bowl game against a pretty good opponent. They’ll probably lose. But, hey, they might win.
When you consider where things started, it’s probably best to chalk up the 2020 season a win.