I don’t know what I expected, but *gestures wildly* THAT wasn’t it. A 16-16 game at the end of regulation? 2.4 yards per carry for Florida? What the heck is this team and what has it done with the defense we all watched the first month-plus of the season?
Nobody will confuse this win for a Picasso, but it counts all the same. The Tigers, somehow, some way, are bowl eligible after a gutsy and ugly 24-23 win on Senior Day.
Let’s get to some takeaways.
1) It’s time to give this defense the credit it deserves
Florida isn’t a great team. Nobody would suggest they are. But that offense has talent. And Missouri made them look bad for the vast majority of that game. The Gators finished the day averaging just 2.4 yards per rush and 7.1 yards per pass attempt. The Tigers’ defense finished with two sacks, 11 tackles for loss, seven quarterback hurries and two stops in the red zone. Florida finished the day 5-for-18 on third down.
I don’t know what changed for this defense. Some of it is personnel. Some of it is undoubtedly scheme. A lot of it is just players performing at a higher level than they did early in the season. Maybe it just took longer than expected to adjust to Steve Wilks’ defense?
Drinkwitz on Mizzou's defense: "Can’t say enough about the job Steve is doing right now."— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 21, 2021
Whatever the reason, they’ve performed well for the last three weeks. The Tigers “held” Georgia to 170 yards on the ground (it doesn’t sound impressive until you take into account the opponent), South Carolina finished with just 57 yards on the ground on fewer than two yards per carry. And now Florida, a team known for its ground attack, finished with fewer than 100 yards on the ground on 2.4 yards per carry.
This is the first time Missouri has held back-to-back power five opponents to fewer than three yards per carry since 2018 when it did so in weeks 11 and 12 against Tennessee and Arkansas. Progress isn’t always linear, but it has been the last few weeks fo this defense.
Missouri needed every bit of that defensive effort against the Gators. The offense took never fully found its footing and the defense just kept giving them chances. A unit that has been maligned for the vast majority of the season deserves its roses for that performance.
2) I’m so happy for Blaze Alldredge
Alldredge had a rough start to the season. I think he would tell you as much. By mid-season he found himself on the bench in favor of linebackers I’m sure he believed at the time he was better than. I think we now know he was right.
He’s taken his game to another level since being re-inserted into the starting lineup. He and Chad Bailey have formed a formidable linebacker duo, and Alldredge had arguably his best game in a Missouri uniform on Saturday. He was everywhere. He finished the game with eight tackles, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and a potential 4-point play.
Florida was driving midway through the fourth quarter with the Tigers up 16-13 when the Gators faced a third and one from the Mizzou 15-yard line. It felt in that moment as if a touchdown could win it for Florida.
What a tremendous individual effort by Blaze Alldredge. He’s up to 8 tackles, 2 TFL & 2 QB hurries today. Probably his best game of the season, and couldn’t come at a better time.— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) November 21, 2021
This might have been a 4-point play. pic.twitter.com/RgbdRI7e6U
The Gators ran an option play to Alldredge’s side of the field. He read it perfectly and played both the quarterback and the running back on the play. It resulted in a one yard loss and the Gators kicked the game-tying field goal on the next play.
If not for that play, Missouri very well might have lost the football game. Alldredge was great from start to finish, but that play will stick in my mind as the lasting memory of Alldredge’s time at Mizzou.
3) Yeah, we have to talk about the quarterback
I just don’t get it, guys. I really don’t. At least this week was a different story. Connor Bazelak didn’t throw any interceptions. He didn’t lose a fumble. He just... wasn’t very good.
His final stats were fine: 15-for-26 for 165 yards and one touchdown. That stat line doesn’t tell the story of the game. He missed open receivers. He clearly can’t run; he apparently told the SEC Network crew the wrap he’s wearing on his knee limits his mobility and it’s not injury related. His inability to throw against pressure has been a consistent issue throughout the season and it showed up once again against Florida.
The one saving grace for Bazelak on Saturday were the big plays. He threw a 50-50 ball to Tauskie Dove early in the game that went for 50 yards. He had a nice throw across the middle to Niko Hea which resulted in a 26-yard gain. He had another nice throw to Hea on the touchdown which went for 41.
Those three plays combined for 117 yards. His other 23 pass attempts combined for 48 yards. He also took six sacks for a loss of 28 yards and had two throwaways which resulted in an intentional grounding call.
Connor Bazelak consistently throws off his back foot against pressure. It led to a bad pass once again on this screen. Even a complete pass probably doesn’t gain a first down. Would’ve been nice to find out. pic.twitter.com/L80jCIZD8e— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) November 20, 2021
Despite all of that, Drinkwitz never wavered. He stuck with Bazelak from start to finish. The only other player who took a snap at quarterback was Micah Wilson, and that was on a couple trick plays. Tyler Macon and Brady Cook never stepped on the field.
I don’t have an explanation for it. Drinkwitz clearly believes Bazelak gives this team the best chance to win. Maybe he’s right. But it was difficult to watch that game and come to the same conclusion.
4) That’s the type of game people weren’t sure Tyler Badie was capable of producing before the season
One of the only reasonable questions about Badie coming into the 2021 season was whether or not he could handle the load of a full-time starter. He obviously can, and we knew that early in the season.
The other question, though, was whether or not he could “grind” through a game like we saw against Florida. Badie has posted some eye-popping stats this season. he has four games of at least 200 yards. He has 13 total touchdowns.
But Saturday was different. He couldn’t find any room to run in the first half, finishing with eight carries for 19 yards. His longest run went for six yards. He was stopped for no gain on three of his eight carries. It was a rough go of it early.
They go for two in overtime …— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 21, 2021
MIZZOU TAKES DOWN THE GATORS! pic.twitter.com/AvC7Q4VgMX
And then he broke through. He had just one carry of 20+ yards on the day, but he was the engine for the offense in the second half. He finished with 19 carries for 127 yards after halftime. This was despite his quarterback completing just four passes after halftime.
Badie has proven himself at every turn this season. Saturday was simply the latest reminder of the kind of player he has become.
5) Eli Drinkwitz’s willingness to press his luck was the difference in that game
You might be asking yourself, “how in the world did they win that game?” It’s a fair question. What a strange game in every possible way.
There are a million different reasons, but the biggest difference between Missouri and Florida was coaching. Dan Mullen couldn’t have coached a more conservative game. He punted on 4th and inches. He wilted at the end of regulation and played for overtime. He settled for field goals in the red zone.
Potentially coaching for his job, Dan Mullen punted on fourth-and-inches, kicked a field goal on fourth-and-2, and willfully let the game go to OT instead of trying to move the ball 35 yards into FG position with over a minute left.— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) November 21, 2021
Drinkwitz says he used those late timeouts in regulation to force Florida to execute a punt knowing they shanked one earlier. He referenced the Michigan botched punt vs Michigan St from a few years ago.— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) November 21, 2021
Eli Drinkwitz was willing to get aggressive when it mattered most. He forced Florida to kick the punt at the end of regulation. It didn’t amount to anything, but it was an aggressive use of timeouts which could have paid off if Florida’s punter shanked another kick.
He then followed that up in overtime by going for two to win the game. I loved the decision, and the playcall was perfect. He used Tyler Badie as a decoy to get the defense flowing to the right while Daniel Parker Jr. leaked out to the left. Game. Blouses.
I would like to finish up with this - I’m so happy for Parker. He was the lone “Tiger 10” player to stay home and play for Mizzou. And, on Senior Day, he’s the player who comes up with the game-winning catch in the end zone. Sometimes it’s hard not to get romantic about sports, and that felt pretty poetic. If the Tigers are going to get this thing turned around, it starts with landing more in-state talent. Parker was willing to stick with Mizzou when most weren’t. It was cool to see him rewarded on Saturday for doing so.
This season hasn’t been what many expected, but the Tigers are officially bowl eligible. That was a pretty dramatic way to seal it.