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Five Takeaways from Mizzou’s 34-17 loss at Arkansas

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Well, at least they beat Florida!

Missouri v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

I thought the spread for this game was too high. Arkansas is better than Missouri. The game is on the road, a place the Tigers haven’t had a whole lot of success in recent years. But Mizzou’s been playing better of late and the defense had been playing well enough to give me hope this would be a close contest.

I was very, very wrong.

One of those teams had a passing game. The other… well… didn’t. That was the difference in the game and it was enough for Arkansas to cover the spread with relative ease. Missouri’s regular season comes to an end with a 6-6 record. Let’s get to the takeaways.

1) Tyler Badie just put together one of the most incredible individual seasons by a Mizzou player of my lifetime

Let’s start with that performance, and then we’ll get to what it means for Badie in the big-picture: Oh my God. What a player.

Tyler Badie was Missouri’s only threat in that game. Barry Odom didn’t have to worry at all about Connor Bazelak or Missouri’s pass catchers beating the Razorbacks defense. The entire game plan should have been to stop #1, and they couldn’t do it.

Badie started the day needing nearly 200 yards on the ground to break Missouri’s all-time single-season rushing record set by Devin West in 1998. He (somehow) found a way to do exactly that.

Badie carried the ball 41 times for 219 yards and a touchdown. That’s a historic workload for a running back who entered the season with questions surrounding whether or not he could carry the load. You can go ahead and count those questions as being answered, and then some.

He joined Derrick Henry and Brandon Holmes on Saturday as the only SEC players to rush the ball 42 times in a regular season game in the last 20 years. No other Missouri running back in the last 20 years has carried the ball that many times in a single game, according to Sports Reference.

Badie finishes the regular season with 268 rushing attempts for 1,604 yards and 14 touchdowns. He joins Trayveon Williams, Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry, Cameron Artis-Payne, Tre Mason, Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram and Darren McFadden as the only SEC running backs in the last 20 years to finish an individual season with at least 1,600 rushing yards.

I don’t know if we’ll see Badie play another game as a Tiger. If I were his agent, I would tell him to sit out the bowl game. It’s not worth the risk. You’ve proven everything you can. Go get yourself paid and have a tremendous career in the NFL.

Regardless of his choice, it’s been an absolute pleasure to watch Badie take full advantage of his opportunity. I don’t know where he ranks on the definitive Mount Rushmore of Missouri running backs, but I know he’s on the list. He had one of the most impressive individual seasons I’ve seen from a Missouri player in my time watching the Tigers.

2) Good on you, Harrison Mevis

Mevis did the unthinkable last week against Florida: he missed a field goal. It was just his second missed field goal of the season. He responded in a big way on Saturday with makes from 41, 46 and 49 yards. He finishes the season with 14 made field goals from 40+ yards. The only kicker in the last five years to finish with more made field goals between 40-49 yards than Mevis (11) was former Iowa kicker Keith Duncan (14).

Mevis somehow wasn’t a finalist for the Lou Groza award. I can’t tell you who won the Groza award in recent years, but I can tell you Mevis should’ve won it this season. (Editor’s note: I agree) He has yet to miss an extra point in his college career, and he’s now 37-for-42 (88 percent) on field goal attempts in his first two seasons. He’s as automatic as they come, and on this Thanksgiving holiday I’m thankful he’s a Tiger.

3) Two plays told the story of the first half

The difference in that game was simple: One team had reason to trust its quarterback and the other didn’t. There were two plays from the game that will stick with me.

The first was Connor Bazelak missing Boo Smith on Missouri’s first drive of the game. Smith had his man beat by at least five years. The only thing Bazelak couldn’t do in that situation was overthrow him. And that’s what happened. It was third down, and the Tigers punted on the next play.

Midway through the second quarter, Arkansas tried a similar deep shot for Treylon Burks. The only difference, of course, is this one was caught. Burks had a wide open lane to the end zone but tripped over his own feet and went down for a 43-yard gain. Arkansas scored three plays later to take a 10-3 lead. That proved to be the difference in the first half. One team hit its deep shot and the other failed to do so.

4) I just don’t understand Eli Drinkwitz’s loyalty to Connor Bazelak

I want to say this on the front end— I don’t enjoy criticizing the play of college players. It feels dirty. These guys are kids, and they’re doing what they can to make it work. But this is part of the job. You don’t come here for me to exclusively talk about the positives. So, here we go (again).

Bazelak struggled again on Saturday. Mightily. This might have been his worst performance of the season. The numbers tell the story. He finished the day 10-for-26 for 65 yards and an interception. He gained 26 of the 65 yards on what will go down as one of the best throws of his career, a deep shot down the sideline to Keke Chism. It was a beautiful throw, and a great catch. But it didn’t make up for the rest of the day.

If you set aside the 26-yard completion, Bazelak’s 25 other pass attempts combined to gain 39 yards. That’s 1.6 yards per attempt. You just can’t beat quality opponents with a passing game that limited.

Unfortunately, this is a continuation of what’s become a trend. Since returning from his injury, Bazelak has thrown for 410 yards on 5.5 yards per attempt. He threw three touchdowns and three interceptions in the final three games.

It was clear by the middle of the third quarter Bazelak just didn’t have it. Blame him, blame the receivers, blame the play-calling, blame the offensive line. We can blame whatever. The passing game wasn’t working. It was time to make the change at quarterback. And yet, the switch just... never happened. Not until it was too late, anyway.

Brady Cook entered the game on Missouri’s final possession for the second time in the last three weeks. He did so against South Carolina because Missouri needed to run out the clock and Bazelak simply couldn’t be trusted to do so. I’m not sure why it took so long to come to the same conclusion against Arkansas. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But I continue to be puzzled by the loyalty shown to a quarterback who has struggled so mightily.

I don’t know what Missouri’s future looks like at quarterback. Maybe Bazelak takes a massive stride forward and leads the Tigers to a 9-win season next year with Luther Burden to throw to. Maybe Sam Horn comes in and wins the job as a true freshman.

But given what we’ve seen the last three weeks and given how hesitant Drinkwitz has been to make the switch, I feel pretty confident neither of the current backups are the answer at quarterback in 2022. If they were, they would’ve seen more playing time down the stretch.

5) I’m thankful for all of you reading our work this season

I’m not sure which bowl game the Tigers will play in this season or when it’ll take place, but there’s a good chance it falls on my honeymoon and as a result this will be my final “five takeaways” of the season.

Thanks to each and every one of you who have read, commented or interacted with us throughout the season. What we do isn’t possible without all of you in this crazy Mizzou family.

This has been a strange season. We got to see Tyler Badie make history, a defense go from historically bad to pretty good and got to argue about who should start at quarterback for basically the entire second half of the season. You’ve been with us through it all. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, thanks to each and every one of you. Here’s to a great rest of your weekend and a joyful holiday season.