Let’s get this out of the way first: that was Missouri’s worst offensive performance of the Eli Drinkwitz era. And it wasn’t even close.
Florida’s defense is talented but it’s ranked nowhere near the most elite defenses Drinkwitz has seen in his 21-game stint in Columbia.
But context matters, right? Mizzou’s receiving corps certainly isn’t the greatest, the offensive line was playing two backups, and - even at 100% optimization - the Tiger offense runs 90% through the legs and hands of Tyler Badie. Oh...and Missouri’s quarterback is totally incapable of running or even maneuvering inside the pocket.
So, yes, there were a lot of limitations placed on the offense in this game which helps explain why this performance, in particular, was the absolute worst. But some of those limitations are self-imposed and the others...well, it’s on the staff and players to overcome those limitations.
Missouri won this game at the last second thanks to the arm of a flailing Bazelak and the hands of Daniel Parker, Jr. but they got there because a once-terrible defense kept them in the game and kept giving that inept offense opportunities. Football is the ultimate team sport and it takes both sides to get a victory. It’s fitting (and very Mizzou) that, the second the defense finally puts it together, the offense becomes a shell of itself. However, this season has always been about long-term development of the individual players in order to build to a better team in the future. Any victories are good victories and, despite the difficulties, Missouri still came away with the W.
Here’s the advanced box score:
Missouri’s offense was bogged down in mud all game but, luckily, so was Florida’s. Both defenses played outstanding though Florida’s job was certainly easier given the fact that the Tiger’s entire game plan is “give ball to Tyler Badie”. Regardless, the good guys did just enough on offense to win and that’s the most important part.
Let’s revisit the keys to the game:
When Missouri Has the Ball
Florida’s defense took advantage of Missouri’s patchwork offensive line, stuffing Tyler Badie at the line 6 times while getting 4 sacks and causing two intentional grounding penalties. But releasing the Kraken on an offense is easier to do when you know the quarterback can’t move, the receivers don’t separate, and the o-line is operating with backups and dudes out of place. It’s a wonder the Tigers moved the ball at all in this scenario so credit to Drinkwitz and the offense for grinding through it.
I figured this would be a shootout and - given Florida’s lackluster defensive effort against Samford and it’s bodacious offensive effort against their entire schedule - Badie would need to take advantage of a soft Florida front seven and go off with a 50% success rate on the ground. He didn’t do that, needless to say; however, it also wasn’t needed. Bullet: dodged!
It’s what killed Missouri in close games against Kentucky and Boston College and nearly lost the games against Vanderbilt and South Carolina. I asked for zero turnovers and Missouri delivered!
Finish your dang drives
Again, with a shootout in mind, I expected Missouri needing to generate 7 scoring opportunities and average at least 5 points per opportunity. What I didn’t expect was Dan Mullen going into a shell and electing to kick field goals and Missouri responding in kind. While the stated goal wasn’t met the actual goal was: 24 points vs. 23 points, 6 trips/4 points per trip vs. 7 trips/3.3 points per trip. Dan Mullen played cowardly football and it cost him his job. What a loser.
Winner: Florida (in this category and because they no longer employ Dan Mullen)
When Florida Has the Ball
Missouri held Florida to a 39.4% success rate while passing the ball, 12.1% lower than their season average. The Tigers also held the Gators to a 33.3% success rate when running the ball, 13.9% below their season average. It’s the third time in four games that Missouri has held their opponent below 3.3 yards per carry and also the third time in four games that Missouri’s havoc rate has been over 20%. The defense is good, folks. I don’t know they did it but it’s good.
Throw Them Off Schedule
Florida came into the game with an unreliability to hit on big plays so the goal was to keep their standard downs success rate under 50%. Of their 74 plays the Gators had 46 standard downs plays and were held to successful plays on 19 of them, good for 41.3%. Bingo.
Limit The Big Plays
Of course, given the caliber of athlete, I figured Florida would connect on some big plays throughout the day but the goal was to limit them to under six for the game. The Gators ended up logging 9 explosive plays, 7 through the air and 2 on the ground. Luckily, only two lead to points (and one was the last play of the first half).
The Little Things
If you have yet to give credit to Missouri’s defensive turn-around, here’s your chance: as bad as Missouri’s offense was, it was only 0.3 yards per play worse than Florida’s. The Tiger defense made Dan Mullen’s boys look absolutely stupid for most of the game as they were able to stuff Gator runners at, or behind, the line 11 times and generate 2 sacks. And once the Gators got into scoring position the Missouri defense scared Dan Mullen enough that he resorted to playing it safe and kicking field goals...something he hadn’t done all season.
That’s not by accident. Steve Wilks was in his bag and the defense was dealing all game. I don’t know what it means for next year or even next week but it was an incredible performance.
The other area of massive improvement: penalties. Florida has a nasty reputation as a undisciplined team when it comes to penalties and that held true on Saturday. But not only did Florida do themselves no good, but Missouri only had three total penalties, two of which were on the same play and one of which was declined. That’s the best penalty performance of the year!
Alright, let’s talk about Connor Bazelak.
For your viewing pleasure, here’s every play that Bazelak dropped back on:
Tyler Badie represented 28% of the passing targets and 20% of the catches while netting negative two (-2) receiving yards. Bazelak’s first nine (9) passes amounted to six (6) completions for five (5) total yards. And that’s with a 22-yard completion to Keke Chism.
Look at the column labeled “Succ”. That column tracks whether a play was successful or not, defined as getting 50% of yards needed on 1st down, 70% of yards needed on 2nd down, and 100% of yards needed on 3rd and 4th down. In the first half, Bazelak threw seventeen (17) passes and three (3) were successful plays. And then, in the 3rd Quarter, Bazelak dropped back to attempt six (6) passes, completed none of them, and was sacked once. Heading into the 4th Quarter, Connor Bazelak was 11/19 for 95 yards and a 15.7% success rate.
Now, the 4th Quarter did happen and Bazelak went 4/6 for 58 yards and a 66.7% success rate and that does count for something. But up until that point Bazelak was turning in a down-right Maty Mauk-ian performance with fewer connections on deep bombs and fewer scramble yards. And while he does get credit for the touchdown and two-point conversion, he also gets the blame for everything else that lead up to it.
This is why I question Eli Drinkwitz’s decision here. I understand he knows this team and this sport much better than I do but...look at that performance! It was awful! And he wants us to believe that neither of the other quarterbacks could do better than that?
The whole debate around Bazelak is moot, I get that. Bazelak will start on Black Friday against the Pigs, and he’ll start the bowl game, too. And there’s no words than can be typed here or anywhere that’s going to change that. But given the fact that this defense has finally rounded into form and there’s a chance for Mizzou to win two more games, it seems pretty wild that the best bet to earn those two wins is with a guy who physically can’t execute at the quarterback position to its full ability.
Missouri is bowl eligible, the fifth time they’ve achieved that designation since 2017 but the first time they’ll be able to actually participate since 2018. Given where this team was a month ago that’s a tremendous achievement.
This offense will be a liability as long as Bazelak is the quarterback and so the Missouri defense will have to be lights out once again this week to have a prayer against a formidable Arkansas squad. Win or lose doesn’t really matter much other than trying to preserve the five-year winning streak the Tigers currently own. We’ll dive deeper into this week’s matchup later; for now, just enjoy the fact that Missouri did enough to get the biggest cry baby in the sport fired.