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Five takeaways from Missouri’s 34-17 win vs. Abilene Christian

It wasn’t pretty, but Missouri improved to 2-1 on the season with a win in what was supposed to be a tune-up game.

NCAA Football: Abilene Christian at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

We were never going to learn anything good about Missouri in a game against Abilene Christian. That’s not how these games work. Either we learn nothing and we all move on to Auburn week, or we learn something and the thought of having to face Auburn sends chills down your spine.

This performance felt like the latter.

It’s hard to describe how Missouri played in the first half. Pedestrian. Flat. Uninspired. Dispiriting. Those are a few of the words that come to mind. This teams should never look like that against an FCS opponent. This is supposed to be a game in which you play your backups for the majority of the second half. Instead, Missouri’s starters were needed to finish things off.

Things can change week-to-week. Maybe the Tigers simply took Abilene Christian too lightly. Maybe they come out with an all-time game plan against Auburn. Anything can happen. But if you - like me - were looking for reasons for optimism coming off of whatever that performance was against Kansas State, well, we came to the wrong place.

Let’s get to the takeaways, shall we?

1) Missouri has a big offensive line problem

NCAA Football: Abilene Christian at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

One play said it all. Missouri has the ball. It’s fourth and one from mid-field early in the second quarter. The Tigers are up 14-3, but the offense has sputtered outside of a deep ball to Dominic Lovett. It’s decision time. Go for it or punt?

Missouri decides to punt.

That decision, in that moment, against that opponent, tells us everything we need to know about how Eli Drinkwitz feels about his offensive line. Missouri’s offensive line should dominate Abilene Christian. This is an FCS opponent. There should be a talent gap. There should be a strength and conditioning gap. There should be a coaching and scheme gap.

It certainly didn’t look that way on Saturday. Missouri’s offensive line struggled from start-to-finish. The Tigers’ offensive line was called for five holding penalties. The Tigers had two “chunk” plays on the ground from their running backs; a 27-yard rush from Nathaniel Peat and a 20-yard run by Cody Schrader. That’s great. Unfortunately, Missouri’s other 29 non-QB rushing attempts before the backup OL came in gained for a combined 70 yards.

Brady Cook was only sacked once, which led to a fumble recovered in the end zone for an ACU touchdown, and he was under consistent pressure in the pocket.

Missouri’s inability to consistently run the football against an inferior opponent is noteworthy. We weren’t supposed to learn anything in this game, but we did. Missouri has a LONG way to go if it’s going to be able to compete in the trenches against the best of the best in this conference. If this wasn’t a wake-up call in that regard, I’m not sure what will be.

2) Dominic Lovett has “made the leap”

Abilene Christian v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

It’s so much fun to watch a player develop right before your eyes. We’re watching that process with Lovett. The former East St. Louis standout wide receiver is making plays for Missouri as he did for the Flyers in high school. Lovett struggled to transition to the collegiate level as a true freshman, as most receivers do. A good portion of is targets came at or near the line of scrimmage.

Suddenly, that’s changed. Lovett had six receptions for 76 yards against Louisiana Tech, and he backed that up with three catches for 66 yards last week against Kansas State. Those were his second and third most productive days since his arrival on campus. They pale in comparison to his production against Abilene Christian.

He finished this game catching seven of his nine targets for 132 yards and two touchdowns. He is the first Missouri receiver under Eli Drinkwitz with at least 130 receiving yards in a game. The last Mizzou receiver to post 130+ yards in an individual game was Johnathon Johnson in the 2018 Liberty Bowl against Oklahoma State (185 yards).

It’s Abilene Christian, I get it, but Lovett is starting to show the ability to become a dynamic downfield threat in this offense, something they’ve missed since Eli Drinkwitz took over.

3) Can someone please explain to me why it took two weeks for Luther Burden to return punts?

Luther Burden finished the game with 111 punt return yards, including a 78-yard touchdown on his first return of the game. Missouri’s punt returners had 53 yards last season. Combined. Over the course of 12 games.

Please, someone, anyone, explain to me why Missouri refused to put Burden back deep to return punts in the first two weeks of the season.

At least it’s done now. The Tigers need to find every way possible to get the ball in Burden’s hands. He finished this game with six receptions, three carries and four punt returns. He produced 177 all purpose yards and a touchdown with those 13 touches. That’ll play. More of that, please.

4) You know you’re down bad when Harrison Mevis is struggling

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Missouri at Kansas State

I audibly gasped when Harrison Mevis missed his first field goal on the day, no good from 52 yards away. I was completely beside myself as he missed again one quarter later from 39 yards. It’s the first time in his career he’s missed multiple field goals in a single game. He was previously 22-for-23 on field goal attempts of less than 40 yards, with the only other miss coming against Florida in 2020.

It’s nothing worth worrying about. Mevis will be fine, because he’s always been fine. But it was another reminder of what that game represented. The Tigers got the win, but the execution from start to finish was sub-par.

5) I’m officially changing my expectations for the season

Abilene Christian v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Take a look at this totally random, definitely not relevant list of teams that are in a very specific order for no reason at all:

  • @ Auburn
  • #1 Georgia
  • @ #18 Florida
  • Vanderbilt
  • @ South Carolina
  • #9 Kentucky
  • @ #15 Tennessee
  • New Mexico State
  • #10 Arkansas

If you were to be put on truth serum, many of those games would you pick Missouri to win? My answer before the season would have been different than it is today. The Tigers can - and almost certainly will - beat New Mexico State. They should be favored against Vanderbilt. Maybe they pull off an upset at Auburn or at South Carolina. It’s hard for me to come up with more than three remaining victories in this schedule, though. Getting to bowl eligibility is going to be difficult.

This offense simply has too many issues. The offensive line can’t open up holes for the running game, the backs aren’t picking up much more than what’s blocked (which isn’t much), the quarterback has had struggles of his own and the tight ends are not SEC caliber. The defense is fine, and it is vastly improved from what it was a year ago, but that’s not going to be enough. Not in this conference, and not with Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas still remaining on the schedule.

I’m not typically the pessimistic guy. I look for reason for optimism. I hope I’m wrong, but I didn’t see too many in the Tigers’ win against Abilene Christian.