The Missouri Tigers’ defensive unit allowed 66 points to the up-tempo Tennessee Volunteers in Saturday’s blowout loss. For the first time all season, Mizzou looked vulnerable and showed defensive lapses in both the pass and run games.
Luckily for the Tigers, New Mexico State journeys to Columbia this weekend for a late-night showdown, which will give Mizzou an opportunity to get back on track before facing Arkansas on Nov. 25.
Saturday’s matchup will be a meaningful one for the Tigers, who plan to celebrate Senior Day and honor those who have dedicated their collegiate careers to Mizzou.
With those festivities and plans in the works, Tigers’ defensive coordinator Blake Baker as well as two seniors, defensive end Darius Robinson and defensive end Isaiah McGuire, took the lectern earlier tonight.
Isaiah McGuire and Martez Manuel to leave, Chad Bailey to stay
Senior Day conversations always look to pinpoint which of the remaining seniors are planning to stay and who is to go. In recent days, we’ve learned about a few of those decisions that will reshape the Mizzou defense of the future.
On Saturday, defensive back Martez Manuel posted to Instagram, announcing that Tennessee would be the final road game of his career. Manuel, who graduated from Rock Bridge High School in Columbia, became the first to announce his decision and will be celebrated accordingly Saturday.
Earlier today, in Mizzou head coach Eliah Drinkwitz’s weekly press conference, he announced that linebacker Chad Bailey will use his remaining year of eligibility and return to the Tigers next season. Bailey’s decision to return not only brought happiness to fans, but also to Baker, who will lead the defense once again next year.
“It’s huge,” Baker said. “Anytime you can get a guy with as much experience as Chad back again...it’s huge.”
Isaiah McGuire, one of Mizzou’s best interior defenders of the past couple years, announced his decision for the first time this evening as well.
“This is my last year,” McGuire said. “It’s time. The next level is there for me.”
For Darius Robinson, who told reporters that he has yet to make a decision on his own future, there is little doubt about what impact McGuire will make at the next level.
“I’m very glad Isaiah made it known that he’s gone because he deserves it,” Robinson said. “He’s been the best player on our defense for two years now and he’s really, if you watch the tape, he’s the best defender in the country.”
The next few days and weeks will determine a lot for Mizzou’s future. With a plethora of seniors, especially on the defensive side of the ball, each senior’s decision will impact the future and alter the course of Tiger football.
New Mexico State will feature a dynamic run scheme
Jumping to game action itself, Mizzou will face the Aggies this weekend with an opportunity to jump back on track following the 42-point defeat to Tennessee. Despite featuring a 4-5 record, New Mexico State has an opportunity to cause problems for the Mizzou defense, especially in its run game.
“I think they’re multiple in the run game, meaning schematically they present you some problems,” Baker said. “They’re not one dimensional ... They do a lot of good things schematically from a blocking scheme standpoint.”
“I think with their run scheme, they’re able to give you different zone schemes versus the pull schemes,” Robinson said. “But this game I think is all about our defense showing who we are.”
The Aggies average 131 rushing yards per game, utilizing the run to establish offensive consistency and open up the explosive pass game. For the Tigers, shutting down that rush will set them up for a successful evening in front of a big home crowd.
Senior Day, Bowl opportunities on the mind of all
It’s no secret that Mizzou will need two victories in order to secure a bowl berth...at least not to Robinson.
“I think my message to the team has been about the bowl game,” Robinson said. “I think I’ve probably been talking about it a little bit too much ... we know what the end goal is.”
Having a bowl berth on the line may not make this game more significant to players and coaches, but it does teach them not to overlook New Mexico State. For months, reporters and analysts have highlighted this game as an easy victory, but the Aggies are still a legitimate threat, so it’ll be crucial to keep that in mind.
“(New Mexico State is) a nameless, faceless opponent,” Baker said. “The logo doesn’t matter and I think our kids have bought into that.”
The addition of Senior Day onto the occasion, however, will no doubt make the game more meaningful to the Mizzou sideline. As with every season, the yearly tradition will mark the end of an era and signify the start of a new future.