College football in 2020 is going to be unpredictable. That was certainly on full display on Saturday as LSU took a loss at home against Mississippi State and Oklahoma dropped a home game against Kansas State. Watching those games, Mizzou fans very well may have wondered if we could see something similar in the home-opener against Alabama.
That hope was shut down. Alabama looked like a team ready to contend for another national championship and Missouri looked a lot like a team with a new coach and a new quarterback trying to find out what it does well and what it doesn’t.
That doesn’t mean we didn’t learn anything about the Tigers from their season-opener, though. Let’s dive into my top five takeaways from Mizzou’s 38-19 loss.
1) There is no quarterback controversy in Columbia
At least not yet. Shawn Robinson played every meaningful snap other than one drive when Connor Bazelak entered the game. Robinson’s play was uneven to open things up, but if you told me entering the game that he would finish 19-for-25 for 185 yards through the air, a touchdown and no interceptions, I would have taken it.
Robinson made a few really impressive throws in the game, especially with pressure in his face. One of them came near the goal line when he had a rusher in his face, he adjusted his arm angle and threw a strike to a wide open Daniel Parker, Jr. Parker was unable to make the catch, and the Tigers’ drive stalled.
One area that could use some work for Robinson is his willingness to throw the ball away. Multiple times he would find himself drifting back or scrambling toward the sideline when a free rusher entered his sight line. Instead of throwing the ball away, he tried to make a play. In that spot - especially against a team like Alabama - just throw the ball and live to play another down.
2) Mizzou is going to get plenty of receivers involved
We all expected the targets to be relatively consolidated among the receiver corps. Drinkwitz brought in Damon Hazelton and Keke Chism in the offseason to improve the options in the passing game. It stood to reason that those two would get the vast majority of the targets as a result.
That’s not exactly how it went down. Hazelton led the team with nine targets, but Chism was maybe the biggest surprise of the game finishing with just three targets and two receptions for 14 yards.
Instead, it was Jalen Knox who seemed to be a big part of Mizzou’s game plan while playing out of the slot. Knox was the only receiver with multiple carries in the running game. Drinkwitz had a nice play design early in the game in which he slipped Knox behind the line and Robinson threw a quick dart to him that resulted in a big first down. In the end, Knox set a new career-high for touches in a single game with seven. After showing so much promise as a freshman, Knox mostly disappeared a year ago. It was nice to see him involved once again.
The Tigers also spent plenty of time rotating in D’ionte Smith, Tauskie Dove, Barrett Banister and Dominic Gicinto. It’s worth monitoring what this rotation and what the target distribution looks like moving forward.
The rotation at receiver isn’t a cause for concern. Quite the opposite, in fact. Mizzou’s receiving corps might be deeper than expected coming into the season.
3) A glimmer of hope emerged at defensive end
Earlier this week we got word from Drinkwitz that Trajan Jeffcoat had rejoined the team and would be ready to play on Saturday. That was surprising enough. And then we saw his play on Saturday against the Crimson Tide. He certainly flashed the potential we’ve heard so much about since he committed to the Tigers as a 3-star recruit out of South Carolina in the 2018 recruiting class.
The rest of the defensive line looked pretty much as expected against an imposing Alabama offensive line. Kobie Whiteside, Akial Byers and Markell Utsey made a few plays. The rest of the defensive ends were mostly quiet. We’ll learn much more about the Tigers’ ability to rush the passer when they line up against Tennessee, but Jeffcoat’s performance against Alabama was enough to warrant an extended look moving forward.
4) Mizzou’s cornerbacks had a tough time keeping up with two future first round wide receivers
There isn’t a team in the country that matches up well with Alabama’s speedy receivers, Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith. Those two are a nightmare to defend. Both are future first round NFL draft picks. The task was daunting from the moment the game was announced.
And then Jarvis Ware went down with an injury midway through the first quarter, and that complicated things even more. The Tigers’ safeties made some plays. The corners were up-and-down, as would be expected. Trying to replace a starting cornerback against this Alabama offense is impossible. Let’s hope Ware can get himself healthy quickly.
5) Mizzou’s star players showed up the way you would expect
Larry Rountree III was Mizzou’s best offensive player. Hazelton made a couple really impressive plays. Tyree Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe look like they’ve taken another step in their development. Both of them were flying around the field to make plays. Nick Bolton made more than his share of plays.
Most of the Tigers’ players you expected to show up in a game against the best of the best did exactly that.