Two teams seeking their first conference wins of the 2021 season squared off in Nashville, each desperate for a meaningful victory. Missouri fresh off a bye week, and one full of talk both good and bad.
Missouri would be the one to get that meaningful victory, but it was hard-fought.
Missouri started out with the ball, and Connor Bazelak was the one that appeared the sharpest coming out of the off week. He orchestrated a solid drive that resulted in yet another kick that Harrison Mevis put through the uprights. That marks the 62nd straight kick (field goal or PAT) that Mevis has converted.
The Tiger defense forced a 3-and-out on the ensuing Vanderbilt possession, in large part thanks to a sack from Chad Bailey on second down.
Next possession was all Tyler Badie. He ran the ball six times, caught it out of the backfield three times, and finished off the drive untouched on a 12-yard touchdown run. A stat-sheet stuffing drive if there ever was one.
The Tigers would get another stop and then block the Commodore punt to get the ball inside the Vanderbilt 20-yard line. However, Connor Bazelak tossed his 8th interception of the season to give the ball right back.
Vanderbilt quarterback Mike Wright would burst for a 69-yard run that was only stopped from being a touchdown by Kris Abram-Draine. Still, the Commodores would punch it in off a jet sweep to make it 10-7. The interception appeared to shell-shock this team on both sides of the ball.
Bazelak came out firing right after the turnover, but the drive stalled out around midfield.
The status of the rush defense was what everyone wanted to see coming out of a two-week break. It remained largely the same.
Vanderbilt responded with more of the ground game on the next drive. They ran the ball 11 times with little resistance en route to claiming a lead of 14-10.
Mizzou would punt on their next drive. The Tigers would hand Vanderbilt a couple of first downs with some penalties, but they recovered nicely to force a punt.
After little ball movement, Vanderbilt attempted to fake a field goal to close the half, but Missouri snuffed it out to complete a stellar half of special teams play.
“We had been going over it all week, and we were ready for it,” defensive back Jaylon Carlies explained. “Based on the situation, we kinda knew it wasn’t going to be a regular field goal.”
This would somehow result in the Tigers miraculously scoring a touchdown on the next possession. Missouri gained 20 yards in 10 seconds to get a shot at a Hail Mary, and Keke Chism pulled it down over a couple of Commodore defenders to end the half on an incredibly positive note. All momentum shifted with a 10-point swing at the end of the half.
“It was kinda like a movie moment,” Chism explained. “Everything just kinda slowed down and the main thing was just timing my jump, it was an amazing feeling.”
Still more run defense woes in this first half, as Mike Wright was killing the Tiger defense with his ability to pull the ball down and run. After a week off, it appeared nothing much had changed with the most talked about issue for this team. On the other side, outside of Tyler Badie, nobody looked in rhythm on offense, but the electric finish suggested brighter trends in the second half.
The two sides exchanged punts to start the second half, but Missouri would be the first to score in the half. Connor Bazelak looked as sharp as he had all game long on the drive, which was highlighted by a 4th-and-2 conversion on a lobbed pass to Tauskie Dove. Like most scoring drives, it ended in a Tyler Badie untouched TD run. The scoreline read 24-14, and the Tigers had a lot more breathing room after nearly being down 17-10 to end the half.
Vanderbilt quarterback Mike Wright, just like he did in the first half, responded with an explosive run to set up a 1st-and-goal situation. A Wright shuffle pass would cut the Missouri lead to just 3 points late in the third quarter.
Tyler Badie came back with a response of his own, as he bounced off two Vanderbilt defenders on a 45-yard run that set Missouri up back in scoring position. Mevis would knock home a field goal to make it 27-21 at the start of the fourth.
Missouri would get the ball back and go on a methodical, time-draining drive. However, Connor Bazelak would go down in obvious pain late in the drive and would not return. He appeared to be favoring his hamstring when walking off the field, and entered the medical tent.
Tyler Macon would step into the game and picked up a couple yards on third down, but with another player in offensive lineman Luke Griffin going down with an injury, the Tigers opted to kick. Mevis would nail a 52-yard field goal with ease, but the loss of Griffin after he slid in for veteran Case Cook on the line is concerning, as well as obviously Bazelak’s injury. Still, it became a two-possession game at 30-21 with the field goal.
“We had been practicing Macon in some 4-minute offense stuff, and Macon executed well, coach Drinkwitz said when explaining the quarterback choice. “If it had been a different situation, we probably would have went with Brady (Cook).”
Vanderbilt would drive back down the field, aided by some Missouri penalties. The Commodores would score from a couple yards out to make it 30-28 with just over three minutes left.
When Mizzou needed him most, Tyler Badie yet again delivered. He ran for 73-yards to set up a Tyler Macon 2-yard touchdown run that essentially clinched the game for the Tigers. Badie set a new career-high of 254 rushing yards with the game-changing run when all of the pressure was on the Tigers. Yet another sensational offensive performance from Badie, as he again seemed to carry this offense for most of the game.
“It’s the biggest thing I tell my teammates,” Badie stated. “Whenever they need me, they know they can count on me.”
A sack by Isaiah McGuire and a Martez Manuel interception derailed any further Vanderbilt scoring, and the Tigers secured a 37-28 road win in Nashville for their first conference victory of the season.
First, the good. Tyler Badie is going to go down as one of the most dynamic playmakers in Missouri history, and he yet again showed why. Whenever he touched the ball, he seemed to be going for at least 8+ yards. Whenever Mizzou needed a momentum-shifting play, Badie provided it either through the air or on the ground. The offense is perfectly geared towards Badie, and it leads to days like this.
“He’s really the engine that drives us,” Coach Drinkwitz said postgame. “He’s just got a big heart and he’s a competitor, and it showed tonight. “For him to put it on his shoulders with our quarterback out, I’m just really proud of him.”
The secondary played very well, and the special teams across the board wete again truly special. Harrison Mevis will be a finalist for the Lou Groza Award.
The bad… this was a Vanderbilt team that ran for 9 yards last week against Mississippi State. They went for 258 rushing yards, and there were just massive holes for Wright and Patrick Smith to run through. 100 penalty yards is not great either, the status of Bazelak and this offensive line is all in the air. Bazelak has seemed banged up throughout this season, and today may have been the final straw to him having to take some time off.
Regardless, this is a conference win that Missouri definitely needed, and it keeps this team’s bowl hopes alive and well.
“Blaze (Alldredge) said he doesn’t believe in motivational speeches but he does believe in momentum,” captain Martez Manuel said in explaining a speech Alldredge had given the team recently. “He said that this win could be what is needed to take us upwards the rest of the season.”
The Tigers will take on Georgia in Athens next Saturday, November 6th. (Network and time TBD)