We’ve talked a lot this year about expectations. There’s an old quote which states happiness equals reality minus expectations. When Missouri beats Vanderbilt on the road by nine points despite the Tigers playing poorly for the vast majority of the game, it almost felt like the win left us with more questions than answers. For the first half of the game against Georgia, with Missouri trailing Georgia 26-3, there was more positivity than the score would probably indicate.
Thus is life as a lower tier SEC team.
In the end, the game more or less went according to plan. Georgia’s defense suffocated the Tigers offense, the Bulldogs’ offense took what Missouri’s defense gave them and the score reflected the best team in the country going up against a team looking to regain its footing.
That doesn’t mean there was nothing to take away. Let’s get to it.
1) Missouri’s defense made some clear adjustments against Georgia’s running game
Georgia’s running backs had 18 carries for 57 yards through the first half. That’s roughly three yards per carry. The Bulldogs’ longest run of the first half went just 17 yards. Georgia ultimately “got theirs” in the second half and finished the game with 33 carries for 168 yards, but if you told me before the game Missouri’s defense would allow just one run of at least 20 yards and it would come on a wide receiver end-around, well, I wouldn’t have believed you.
It wasn’t by accident, either. Missouri made some clear changes both schematically and with its personnel.
Darius Robinson was back in the lineup after dealing with an injury for much of the season. There were multiple situations in which the Tigers had three defensive tackles on the field with Akial Byers kicking out to defensive end. Stacy Brown, after playing all of one snap a week ago and 38 on the season, played the vast majority of the game as a box safety. He finished with just one tackle but he seemed to be around the ball quite a bit. Chad Bailey and Blaze Alldredge played the majority of the game at linebacker. Allie Green IV, after not seeing the field against Vanderbilt, was on the field for nearly the entire game at cornerback against Georgia.
The results - at least against the run - were impressive. The Tigers sold out to take away what was clearly the strength of Georgia’s offense. The Bulldogs’ offense would have loved nothing more than to run the ball 50 times for 400 yards against Mizzou. I honestly expected them to do exactly that. Instead, Missouri held Georgia to its second lowest rushing total (168 yards) of the SEC slate. Only Kentucky held the Bulldogs to a fewer rushing yards (166).
The 168 rushing yards against the Tigers’ defense also marked a new season low against this Missouri defense. That’s a bit terrifying, considering Missouri has played SEMO, but I digress. Missouri had a plan. It followed that plan. And it, more or less, succeeded with that plan.
Unfortunately that plan left the secondary without much help. Mizzou’s corners were one-on-one all day long against some of the best athletes in the country. Its safeties were constantly put in conflict and, yeah, there were some plays made over the top as a result. It happens. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather lose to Georgia by making Stetson Bennett beat me with perfect passes over the top than watching yet another team run it down the defense’s throat.
In the end, Georgia still scored 43 points. I get it if you don’t want to give the defense credit for getting blown out. My expectations were exceptionally low. I wasn’t sure this defense had that kind of effort in it against the run.
2) Let’s talk about the quarterbacks
It wasn’t pretty. I didn’t expect it to be, and I hope you didn’t expect it to be, either. Missouri rotated between a true freshman and a redshirt freshman with a combined 16 career pass attempts. They did so while facing a pass defense which came into the game ranking first in the country in yards allowed per pass attempt (5.0) with the fewest passing touchdowns allowed (3). This was good enough to come into the game ranked second in the country in QB rating against.
Oh, and that’s not to mention the fact that Georgia’s opponents have scored on just eight of 14 red zone opportunities, and the Bulldogs rank top 10 nationally in sacks per game (3.25). Yeah, they’re pretty good.
I say all of that to say this - we weren’t going to learn a whole lot about Brady Cook or Tyler Macon against this Georgia defense. The best quarterback performance this season against the Bulldogs this season was Will Levis who finished the game 32-for-42 for 178 yards (4.2 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns.
Missouri’s quarterbacks finished 20-for-32 for 152 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. That ain’t great. It’s also considered to be a “solid” day against this defense. Everything is graded on a curve against Georgia.
That said, much of the yardage came in “garbage time” when the game was already in hand. Missouri’s quarterbacks combined to complete eight of 11 attempts for just 19 passing yards in the first half. WOOF. The only way the Tigers could move the ball while the game was in question was through the run game, and more specifically, with Macon’s legs.
So let’s talk a bit about Macon’s game. He wasn’t perfect. He had a deep pass to Dominic Lovett that should’ve gone for a big gain. Instead, he threw it back toward the defender and it had no chance of being caught. He got lucky and the Georgia defender couldn’t help but commit pass interference. That wasn’t the only mis-throw from Macon; there were multiple. He was also hurt by a couple early drops from his receivers and an early flag that put Missouri behind the sticks. Overall, I thought he showed you enough to give you reason to believe he can give the Tigers a chance in the next three weeks. He’s raw as a passer and needs some work, but he adds a different dimension to the running game which could take Badie’s game to yet another level. I’m intrigued to see what he can do against defenses that aren’t, you know, the best in the country.
Cook’s game was, more or less, what I expected. He’s pretty accurate, and brings a little more mobility to the game than Bazelak does. That said, all of the issues with Missouri’s offense with Bazelak in the game also exist when Cook is out there. It’s not Cook’s fault, and this is not meant as a shot against him. It’s the reality of where this team is at right now. They need a dynamic playmaker at quarterback to try to elevate the offense because the current pass catching options aren’t at the level in which they can elevate the quarterback’s game.
Based on the performance this week, I would like to see Macon once again get the start next week, whether Bazelak is available or not. I think he gives you the best chance to win. If Bazelak is unavailable, I would script the first quarter to give Macon two series and Cook one series. Make a determination off of that and ride with the hot hand the rest of the game. I know it’s not ideal, but these aren’t ideal circumstances.
3) Mizzou still had too many self-inflicted issues
When you travel on the road to play the top-ranked team in the country, everything has to go your way - not to win, but just to keep the game close. That means you have to limit penalties and drops by receivers, eliminate turnovers and make just about every correct decision when it comes to being aggressive. That simply didn’t happen for the Tigers.
Missouri’s first drive of the game was heading the right direction until a false start was called on Michael Maietti. That put the Tigers behind the sticks and they punted from their own 45-yard line three plays later. The second drive stalled out after a drop by Tauskie Dove. The third drive resulted in a blocked punt that went ended up going out of the back of the end zone for a safety. On Georgia’s next possession, the Tigers lined up offsides on a third & one from midfield. When Missouri got the ball back down 16-3 midway through the second quarter, it decided to go for it on fourth & three. That’s when Macon made a decision to cut inside when he might have been able to beat the linebacker to the edge. Turnover on downs. The Tigers punted the ball on fourth and one from their own 34-yard line down 19-3 with 3:00 to play in the first half. Georgia scored a touchdown on their next drive.
You get the point. Unforced errors played a significant role in how Missouri let that game slip away. These things happen. It’s part of the game. But those “little things” become big things when you’re playing against a team like Georgia.
To Missouri’s credit, the Tigers finished the game with just five penalties for 25 yards. Drinkwitz attempted an onside kick to open up the second half that almost worked. They did what they could; it just wasn’t enough in a game like that.
4) Goodbye to Harrison Mevis’ streak of consecutive made kicks
Mevis is one of the best kickers in the country and he’ll go down as one of the best special teams players in the history of Missouri’s program. It was a real bummer to watch him miss the kick that hit the upright against Georgia. He had made his previous 20 consecutive field goals, which had served as the longest such streak in the nation.
But, in Mevis-esque fashion, the #ThiccerKicker was able to make his next field goal from 42 yards out. What a stud. Time to start another streak.
5) The stretch run is what will determine how Missouri fans feel about the 2021 season
This is already a disappointing season for many. The Tigers lost all of their “swing games” early in the season. But I wouldn’t be so quick to write off a potential 6-6 season. South Carolina’s resume is eerily similar to Missouri’s. Florida looks like a team that might be ready to quit. Arkansas’ defense hasn’t been playing to the same level it did early in the season.
I think the over/under for wins down the stretch should be set at 1.5. Smart money would be bet on the under. But the intrigue is back for Mizzou.
The last four weeks were more about getting the game over with than it was about learning anything tangible. Everyone knew the Tigers would beat North Texas and Vanderbilt, and they would likely get blown out by Texas A&M and Georgia.
I’m not sure how these next three games will go. I have no idea what to expect. But that’s when college football is at its best. There are three weeks left for Missouri to salvage its 2021 season. Let’s see if they can do it.