It feels as though this Missouri football team is still searching for consistency on offense and just throwing their hands up on defense. This is the only logical reaction to what we’ve seen from the Tigers through four games. There are many areas that seem nearly impossible to fix without an immediate influx in talent. But head coach Eli Drinkwitz says this team can fix their mistakes in the run defense, while also cutting back on the costly turnovers on offense.
The trip to Boston didn’t go as planned for the Tigers, especially on defense. The Eagles rushed for 275 yards on 40 attempts, clearly noticing they could wear down Missouri and eat up clock. This is not how Eli Drinkwitz imagined his season going so far on the defensive side. They’ve allowed an average of 269.3 yards rushing per game. That’s just pitiful, and the coaching staff would tell you the same. But Drinkwitz is not rushing to panic just yet, as he discussed on Wednesday.
“We’re four weeks into a new defensive scheme, and it’s going to get better. We’re going to get better. We’re all learning it. We’re all pushing this thing in the right direction. So I’m not going to hit the panic button. Nobody’s going to hit the panic button.”
If the Tigers thought Boston College or Kentucky was difficult to play against on defense, wait till they have to play against the tempo-oriented Vols on Saturday. The Vols will come into this game looking to establish the run and force Missouri into mistakes on the defensive side.
“When somebody’s snapping the ball three plays every 60 seconds, there’s a lot of opportunities for error and they capitalize on those errors. So we’ve got to do a great job of making sure we communicate the right call, get lined up and get the defensive play executed.”
As for the offense, the Tigers just have to cut out the turnovers and find a way to establish the run game. In their two losses, Missouri has been outgained on the ground 607-192, which won’t get you far in this league. It is imperative for Tyler Badie to get downhill and feel comfortable behind his offensive line, but he also needs help. In this case, Badie can’t do it alone. He will need the help from a player like Elijah Young, who hails from the Knoxville area. Maybe this tandem can cause the Vols defense problems, but if Missouri is going to win, it’s going to do it on the arm of Connor Bazelak.
The quarterback has 1,200 yards passing and 10 touchdowns on the season, but his turnovers against Boston College were costly. I think it’s pretty obvious to see a difference in him this season, especially with his command of the offense, but he has to see the field better, especially when he has receivers running free down the field. No longer can he just rely on the dump down to the running back, as teams have started to pick up on this trend. He can be explosive with his throws and getting outside the pocket, but he’s not a running quarterback.
It’s time for Bazelak to put it all together. We’ve seen him do well on third downs this season, where they’ve had success. But, this offense can’t rely on Connor getting them out of jams. They need to be proactive in their play calling. This Tennessee defense will present the opportunity for Missouri to spread it out and test the Vols vertically. So, can Bazelak find those holes in the defense and make them pay? That is the question.
This game is shaping up to be a fork in the road, especially for the Tigers. If they can put it together on Saturday, then the season isn’t lost and they can find ways to make it successful. But, if they let Tennessee come into Columbia and rush for over 200 yards, it will take a gigantic effort for the Tigers to keep up. Lose this one, and the season can spiral out of control. But, winning this game can make folks forget about how badly they played in Boston and get this team back on track for a bowl game.
Either way, Saturday is key for a multitude of reasons.