Losing stinks. It’s no fun. It’s especially difficult to take when your favorite team mounts a comeback to make a game closer than it otherwise should be. Sometimes I believe in my heart a close loss is worse than a blowout.
That’s nonsense, of course. There are things to learn from a close loss. A close loss indicates a level of competitiveness. It leaves a bad taste, but there’s still room for hope.
And that’s where we’re at with Missouri football. Did losing to Kentucky sting? Absolutely. Did watching the Wildcats run for seven yards per carry give me flashbacks to Tre Mason in 2013? Why, yes, it did.
But all is not lost. And we’ll explain why in today’s five takeaways from the Tigers’ frustrating 35-28 loss in Lexington.
1) There is no “quick fix” for the defense
There are legitimate questions to ask when your defense gives up more than 500 rushing yards in the first two weeks of the season. Chris Rodriguez’s 206 rushing yards were the most against Missouri’s defense since Middle Tennessee State’s I’Tavius Mathers rushed for 215 yards against the Tigers back in 2016. Yeah, I try to forget that game, too.
Anyway, back to the defense. It’s not good. Kentucky’s plan was pretty simple - find Trajan Jeffcoat and run to the other side. It worked. Missouri doesn’t have another SEC starting caliber defensive end right now.
The issues are made worse by the Tigers’ limitations at linebacker. Blaze Alldredge is a great story, and I’m rooting for his success, but he’s been a liability against the run the first two weeks of the season. That said, he’s clearly Missouri’s best linebacker right now. That’s… not good.
This is a personnel issue. Scheme can be changed. Effort can improve. Opponents’ gameplans will change. But there’s nothing Eli Drinkwitz can do - at this moment - about his personnel. Missouri simply doesn’t have the horses in the front seven.
That can change. I believe it will change. Just not this year. That’s why Drinkwitz’s recruiting prowess is so important. The talent level in the front seven must be improved.
2) Missouri needs to find its version of Wan’Dale Robinson
There’s nothing more demoralizing than watching the other team run all over your defense. And, as we’ve discussed, Rodriguez did plenty of that on Saturday night. But he wasn’t the only one Missouri had a tough time containing. Robinson was a matchup nightmare for Mizzou.
Robinson finished the game as the first player to rush for at least 70 yards and add at least 100 yards in the receiving game against Missouri since David Fluellen did so for Toledo in 2013. It was an all-around explosive performance, with Robinson averaging more than 20 yards per touch.
That’s what Missouri is missing at the receiver position right now. Drinkwitz doesn’t have enough playmakers - or, in the words of Drinkwitz - touchdown makers. The hope is that’ll be fixed next year with the (potential?) addition of 5-star receiver Luther Burden.
3) Mizzou’s offensive line isn’t good enough right now
Connor Bazelak and Tyler Badie are doing everything they can to overcome the clear deficiencies up front, but it’s impossible to not notice the clear lack of difference-makers along the Tigers’ offensive line.
The toughest part about the issues up front is they’re difficult to diagnose. It seems to be something different on any given play. It’s like playing a game of whack-a-mole. Once one thing gets fixed, another issue appears. The quick passing game and Badie’s ability to get to the edge will help mask these issues, but when the Tigers get down early the way they did against Kentucky, the gameplan changes and suddenly the offensive line is a massive liability.
4) Tyler Badie is a monster
Remember when we made all of those offseason comparisons between Tyler Badie and former NC State running back Nyheim Hines? They’re coming true, friends.
Badie has been the Tigers’ best player by a wide margin through the first two games. He currently leads the country in yards from scrimmage with 392. He’s the first Missouri player in at least the last two decades to post at least 100 rushing yards and 100 receiving yards combined in the team’s first two games of the season.
Badie is currently on pace for nearly 1,600 rushing yards, 750 receiving yards and 18 total touchdowns. It’s obviously unlikely he’ll sustain those kinds of numbers, but it seems likely at this point he’ll at least match if not exceed Hines’ junior season in which he finished with 1,250 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns.
More important than the numbers, Badie has answered the “workhorse” questions. He doesn’t have your prototypical lead back size, but he more than makes up for it with his explosiveness and his ability in the passing game. The Tigers have leaned heavily on Badie through the first two weeks, and they’re going to continue doing so moving forward.
5) All hope is not lost
If we’re being honest with ourselves, that game went, more or less, as expected. Kentucky is the more talented team right now, and that was evident on Saturday. That talent gap will continue to show up throughout SEC play. The talk of this team going 9-3 or 10-2 was always premature. The expectations should’ve been set closer to 7-5.
Saturday was a measuring stick game, and we learned a lot about where Mizzou stands in its rebuilding process: There’s still a ways to go.
Drinkwitz knew this. He tried to prepare Mizzou fans for it. He said last week his team was not ready for a big SEC road test.
That said, the Tigers found a way to get back into that game. They were completely outmanned along both lines. They were outplayed for the vast majority of the game. And, yet, they had the ball with a chance to tie the game in the final minute. That’s a hell of an effort. I know fans don’t want to hear it, and I get that. But the fight this team showed on Saturday will go a long way in potentially earning them wins in the other swing games on the schedule this season.
Saturday was tough. But all hope is not lost. There’s still a lot of football left to play.