Those are the types of questions Mizzou fans are asking themselves after back-to-back losses slipped away in the closing minutes against the Auburn Tigers (3-2) and No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs (5-0), respectively.
Instead of entering a week five showdown against the Florida Gators at 4-1, the Tigers (2-3) are facing a potential must-win in Gainesville with their bowl aspirations in mind.
One year after its defense took the brunt of the criticism, there is a new culprit at the forefront of Mizzou’s losing ways—itself.
“We’re self inflicted wounds from winning [yesterday’s] game,” Drinkwitz said.
Self inflicted mistakes, especially along the Tigers’ inexperienced offensive line, have wiped out effective gains, stalled drives and ultimately killed momentum. While these wounds are natural in the course of football, Mizzou’s lack of success on fundamental techniques is the driving force in the team’s losses.
The most glaring wound yesterday? Penalties.
“[Penalties are] killing us right now,” Drinkwitz said. “We’re not meaning to, but you got to take it off the table and that’s part of maturing.”
Entering the Georgia game, Mizzou ranked No. 120 nationally in penalties per game at 8.5, which accounted for 69 yards per game, good for No. 108 in the country.
The Tigers continued that trend against the Bulldogs, committing seven penalties for 66 yards in the 26-22 loss. Of those penalties, four came on offense, totaling 35 yards, while the defense offended three times for 31 yards.
A holding call on Javon Foster wiped out Nathaniel Peat’s three-yard rush on Mizzou’s third drive of the game, pushing the Tigers from Georgia territory back into their own. Mizzou quarterback Brady Cook overcame the challenge, however, finding sophomore wide receiver Dominic Lovett for a 27-yard gain.
One play later, Connor Wood jumped early and Mizzou was flagged for a false start, making it a 1st & 15 at the Georgia 29-yard-line. With the lost yardage, Cook later failed to convert on a 3rd & 13, bringing on Mevis for a field goal. Although small, it’s a mistake the Tigers could not afford deep in Bulldog territory, as you’ll see later.
Mizzou’s third penalty, arguably the most impactful, occurred one play after senior running back Cody Schrader rattled off a 63-yard carry to the Georgia one-yard-line. In prime position to score, offensive lineman Mitchell Walters moved before the snap, sending the Tigers back five yards. In the end, that may have been the difference.
The first defensive penalty for Mizzou, a defensive holding on defensive back Kris Abrams-Draine, had little effect after Georgia was flagged for a personal foul of its own, forcing the Bulldogs to settle for a field goal.
Defensive back Ennis Rakestraw, Jr. committed defensive pass interference as Georgia hunted in Mizzou’s red zone early in the third quarter, culminating in a first down and eventually a field goal. As mentioned before, this defensive penalty actually had little effect on the play itself.
Later in the third quarter, the officials flagged defensive back Martez Manuel for a low-block, adding 15 yards to the 15-yard rush and putting the Bulldogs in prime field position. Once again though, the drive resulted in a field goal.
Yet, the penalty that likely sealed Mizzou’s fate did not come until the fourth quarter. Facing a 3rd & 7 on the Georgia 47-yard-line, Cook found wide receiver Barrett Banister over the middle for a nine yard gain. Instead of celebrating, however, the Tigers watched their drive stall out after officials announced a hands-in-the-face personal foul against Walters.
“We got called for a flag and put ourselves in a tough spot, just a third and long there against a very talented defense,” Banister said.
During the two most critical moments of the game, Walters committed momentum-killing penalties. The sophomore is not the only one to blame along an inexperienced offensive line, as Wood and Foster also heard their names called, but Walters’ mistakes compounded the Tigers’ fundamental mistakes.
“Got to be better,” Drinkwitz said. “Can’t miss on your punch, can’t land it in the face mask and can’t jump on balls [at] the one-yard-line.”
Not only did the penalties give Georgia both yardage and more opportunities, but they forced the Tigers into leaving points on the field.
- Instead of punching in a touchdown following Schrader’s run, Mizzou settled for three points.
- Walters’ personal foul pushed the Tigers out of field goal range as they held onto a slim three-point advantage, which the Bulldogs would erase on the following drive.
- Wood’s false start negated some momentum as Mizzou’s hurry-up offense was forced to slow down and recalibrate despite connecting on a 27-yard competition on the play before. Instead of having an opportunity to catch Georgia lacking, the Tigers had to settle for three.
- In Manuel’s case, the extra 15 yards may have been the difference. Had he not committed the penalty, Georgia would have 1st & 10 at its own 40-yard-line. Playing the what if game, kicker Jack Podlesny, who made a 29-yarder, would have attempted a tougher 44-yard try. (His long for this season is 42 yards)
Against the nation’s No. 1 team, those kinds of mistakes are the determining factors as to whether an unranked program can dethrone the top dogs. The silver lining for Mizzou fans is that each of the aforementioned penalties are correctable, but until fans see results, discipline will be a major question mark for the 2022 Tigers.