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Five Takeaways from Mizzou’s 23-10 win at South Carolina

That was the best version of this Tigers team.

NCAA Football: Missouri at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time we admit the reality of this football team: It’s almost never going to be pretty. That’s not what this team is about. It’s not a “throw it all over the yard” type of squad. Chase Daniel and Drew Lock are not walking through that door.

And that’s okay.

This team does some things well. The defense isn’t among the best in the county, but it’s pretty darn good. The offense doesn’t have a lot to lean on, but the running game has come around and Dominic Lovett is a bona fide star.

What does that get you? A team that currently boasts a 4-4 record and is a few plays away from being 7-1. That might sound outlandish. It is not. Despite having no chance of beating K-State, this team was a fumble at the goal line away from beating Auburn, a pick-6 away from having a real shot against Florida and a botched fourth quarter from having a real shot to upset Georgia.

Moral of the story: This team isn’t bad. It’s not great. But it’s not bad. And on Saturday, we saw the best version of what this team can be. It’s not pretty, but it’s pretty darn effective. Missouri is the SEC’s version of Iowa, basically. You can take that for what it’s worth.

As for what we learned against South Carolina, specifically? Let’s take a deep dive in this week’s five takeaways.

1) D-Line Zou comes through

Missouri came into the week ranked 27th defensively in SP+. They just allowed a total of 186 yards, and just 32 yards on the ground. The Gamecocks’ 32 yards on the ground are the fewest allowed by Missouri in a conference game since the same South Carolina Gamecocks rushed for 16 yards against Missouri back in 2019. Before that, though, you have to go back to 2009 for the last time the Tigers allowed fewer than 40 rushing yards in a conference game.

But it wasn’t just the performance stuffing the run. Blake Baker’s unit also produced some serious negative plays. They finished with four sacks, three QB hits, 11 tackles for loss, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and an interception. The last time Missouri’s defense had four sacks and 11 TFL in a conference road game: earlier this year against Auburn (sigh) and 2014 (!!!) against Tennessee.

This defense has held its own all season, and it’s nice to see that effort pay off with a win on the road against a top 25 opponent.

2) You gotta love Lovett

Missouri wide receivers in the last 15 years to post at least 10 receptions 148+ yards in a conference game:

  • J’Mon Moore (2017 @ Arkansas) - 10 receptions, 160 yards
  • Danario Alexander (2009 @ Kansas) - 15 receptions, 233 yards
  • Danario Alexander (2009 vs. Iowa State) - 11 receptions, 173 yards
  • Danario Alexander (2009 @ Kansas State) - 10 receptions, 200 yards
  • Danario Alexander (2009 vs. Baylor) - 13 receptions, 214 yards
  • Dominic Lovett (2022) - 10 receptions, 148 yards

That Danario Alexander kid was pretty good. So is Dominic Lovett. Lovett, who came into the day sitting second in the SEC in receiving yards per game. It doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon. He’s now on pace for nearly 1,000 yards this season. If he were to accomplish such a feat, he would be just the sixth wide receiver to do so in a Missouri uniform since the turn of the century (joining J’Mon Moore, Bud Sasser, T.J. Moe, Danario Alexander, Jeremy Maclin and Justin Gage).

3) They didn’t need Brady to cook

That is what Brady Cook needs to do. Nothing more, nothing less. He made the plays that needed to be made. He finished the day with 53 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and he threw for nearly 10 yards per attempt. He had five chunk yardage passing plays and another on the ground. More importantly, he didn’t have the critical mistake.

The issue with Cook this season and Connor Bazelak last season has not been their inability to create the big play down the field, or to find the open man. It’s their propensity to make the exact wrong play at the exact wrong time. They simply make too many mistakes that lead directly to points for the opposition. The single biggest change for Missouri’s offense against South Carolina was their ability to limit the self-inflicted wounds. They finished with zero turnovers, just three penalties for 15 yards (all false starts), only one sack and four tackles for loss allowed. The negative plays were held to a minimum, and that is quite a change from what we’ve seen in recent weeks.

4) Mevis makes up for his mistake

This has not been your typical Harrison Mevis year. He finished the game 2-for-4 against Abilene Christian with a miss from inside 40 yards. He missed another critical field goal the next week from inside 30 against Auburn. He missed again from inside 40 last week, and he missed from 21 against South Carolina. He is now 3-for-5 this year from inside 30 yards. He was 10-for-10 from that same distance the last two years combined. Mevis had proven himself to be among the best kickers in the country, and one of the most consistent Missouri kickers in program history.

That same confidence simply isn’t there this season. He’s still quite good. But he’s no longer automatic. He made up for his miss from 21 by making field goals later in the game from 50 and 32 yards, respectively. That’s what Mevis does. He makes up for his mistakes. But if it feels like his misses are adding up this season, it’s because they are. He missed a total of five field goals in his first two years combined. He’s missed five field goals the first eight games of this season.

5) That is exactly the kind of win this team needed

Missouri’s fanbase was in need of a win like that. The Tigers felt like a team playing out the string, even after the win against Vanderbilt. Sure, a win is a win. But is it? A 3-point win at home against Vanderbilt left me feeling empty. It was as unfulfilling a win as one could have.

This was different. The Tigers went on the road against a top-25 opponent and came away with a win. That’s something Drinkwitz’s teams at Missouri had never done before. In fact, Missouri was 0-4 in its previous road games under Drinkwitz against ranked opponents with a combined point margin of 101 points. It hadn’t been good, to say the least. For this team to go on the road and pick up a convincing victory was pretty darn impressive.

There is still more work that needs to be done. New Mexico State should be a gimme game. Kentucky and Arkansas - both at home - provide Drinkwitz opportunities for a “signature” victory. Both also provide an opportunity for this team to find a way to bowl eligibility.

The 2022 season has been full of ups and downs. This team does not play pretty football games. But they’re finding ways to keep things interesting. Here’s to hoping they can make good on their efforts.