When the Missouri Tigers showed up to practice this week to prepare for Southeast Missouri State, they were greeted by a list on each of their lockers. It was an eight-team list of each FBS school that had lost to an FCS school this year. The message from the coaching staff to the players was clear; don’t be number 9.
When the Tigers took the field on Saturday it looked like that message had resonated because they came out swinging.
SEMO won the coin toss and elected to defer to start the game. Naturally, Eli Drinwkitz wasted no time getting the ball in the hands of his best playmakers. RB Tyler Badie touched the ball on 5 of 6 plays on the first drive and capped it off with a 49-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 7-0 after just 2:40 played. “It was a huge point for us to start fast and execute,” WR Keke Chism said after the game.
On the Tigers' first defensive possession, they came out and made a statement after much was made of their struggles the last two weeks. A quick three and out got the offense the ball right back, and they struck quickly again.
A 32-yard completion to a wide-open Dominic Lovett got the Tigers going, and just six plays later, QB Connor Bazelak connected with Badie for an 11-yard touchdown that extended the Tiger lead to 14-0.
Another quick defensive stop followed Badie’s second touchdown, and the ball was right back in Bazelak’s hands. Following a targeting penalty on the punt by SEMO WR Aaron Alston, the Tigers took over on their 39-yard line, and on just the fourth play of the drive, Bazelak found WR Boo Smith on a deep post for a 46-yard touchdown that made it 21-0 with 3 minutes left in the first quarter.
A quick first down was all SEMO got on their next drive before Steve Wilks’ defense stood firm and forced another Redhawk punt. The ball was downed inside the Mizzou 1-yard line, but it took all of one play for Bazelak to find a streaking Mookie Cooper for a 46-yard completion to get the Tigers out from their own goal line. However, for the first time all game, Eli Drinkwitz’s offense didn’t find the endzone and was forced to settle for a 43-yard Harrison Mevis FG.
The Tiger defense stopped the SEMO offense once more after Mevis’ field goal and marched down the field again. This time it was WR Chance Luper, who found the endzone for the first time in his career, when he caught a screen pass from Connor Bazelak after lining up in the backfield and doing the rest himself en route to a 54-yard touchdown.
As the first half wound down, Mizzou continued to keep the SEMO offense contained and gave Connor Bazelak and Co. one last drive before halftime; they didn’t waste it. A 5:47 methodical march down the field that featured WR JJ Hester’s first collegiate catch was completed by Tyler Badie’s third touchdown of the game on a 1-yard run.
That score made it 38-0 at the half, and Bazelak and Badie’s days were done.
Bazelak finished 21-30 for 346 yards and 3 touchdowns including some deep passes down the field. “I’m confident in my deep ball, I think people just talk about it,” the Mizzou QB said after the game. Badie added 95 yards from scrimmage and 3 touchdowns as well.
Meanwhile, the first-team defense also had a strong performance surrendering just 69 yards and only 3 first downs while not allowing the Redhawks to even run a play in Mizzou territory.
“The big emphasis was getting off the field on third down this week, and I think we did a good job,” said CB Kris Abrams-Drain. “I thought we were much better [at] destroying blocks and much better tackling,” explained Head Coach Eli Drinkwitz on the first-half performance, “The rush yards in the first half were on passes we didn’t maintain contain which is a nemesis that has to be fixed.”
As the teams returned for the second half, the Mizzou defense kept their foot firmly on the gas pedal, and Abrams-Draine picked off SEMO QB CJ Ogbonna. When the Tiger offense took the field, it was Brady Cook’s turn under center in relief of Bazelak. The Chaminade High School product did exactly what was asked of him and found RB Elijah Young in the endzone for a touchdown to put Mizzou up 45-0.
With the second-team defense finding themselves on the field, SEMO began to move the ball. Ogbonna led the Redhawks down the field on a 75-yard drive with a heavy emphasis on running the ball that concluded with a 4-yard Geno Hess rushing touchdown. That score got SEMO on the board, but they still trailed 45-7.
It was Tyler Macon’s turn after the SEMO score, and he started his Mizzou career with a bang. On his very first collegiate pass attempt, the freshman from East St. Louis found WR JJ Hester on a slant for a 65-yard touchdown. It was the first TD of both their careers. “He took that slant route and exploded out of there,” Eli Drinkwitz said after the game.
The Redhawks continued to stay hot and answered with another score of their own. A 6-play drive that included runs of 3 runs of over 17 yards including an 18-yard touchdown run. That score made it 52-14, and the SEMO defense followed the score up by forcing the first Mizzou punt of the game.
The Redhawks scored twice more as they continued to run the ball down Missouri’s second-team defense’s throat. Mizzou RB Michael Cox managed to find the endzone in between the two Redhawk TDs, but the story at the end of the game was the 294 yards rushing yards for SEMO.
Despite surrendering 8.2 yards per carry and the aforementioned 294 yards, Eli Drinkwitz didn’t seem too concerned about his team’s second-half performance. “We were playing freshmen who have played scout team all week,” said the Mizzou Head Coach, “We would’ve had more luck playing SEMO’s defense against SEMO’s offense.
He also added, “I’m not concerned about it the least, I mean it was 38-0 at halftime.”