What we learned from Mizzou’s 34-24 win over Central Michigan

It wasn’t domination. Mizzou didn’t even cover the -13.5 spread that betting services gave to the Tigers ahead of their matchup with the Central Michigan Chippewas. But, Eliah Drinkwitz and company got what they set out to achieve: a 1-0 start to the 2021 season.

“I just felt like, all week, we were going to be in this type of game,” said Drinkwitz, “and kind of preached it all week, and talked about making sure we had a four-quarter mentality.”

Mizzou found themselves down 14-7 in the second quarter after a seven-play, 88-yard touchdown drive from Central Michigan. But, the Tigers immediately responded with a touchdown drive of their own to tie the ballgame. After a later 53-yard field goal from Harrison Mevis, Mizzou entered halftime with a 17-14 lead.

In the second half, the Mizzou defense received a boost with the return of Jaylon Carlies, who couldn’t participate in the first half due to a targeting suspension from last year’s game against Mississippi State. He picked off an overthrow from Central Michigan quarterback Jacob Sirmon in the third quarter and made a lot of important tackles throughout the rest of the game. 

Here’s a look at the key takeaways from Saturday’s action at Faurot Field and throughout the college football world.

Tyler Badie can move

The Mizzou offense got out to a lightning-fast start when Connor Bazelak hit D’ionte Smith on a deep 63-yard completion in between the seams. Badie capped off the drive on the next play, entering the end zone untouched on a 12-yard run.

Badie would finish the game with 205 rushing yards on 25 carries, also adding 40 more yards on three catches. His second touchdown came later in the first half on a 30-yard catch-and-run, beating the defense to the boundary. 

“Tyler’s an electric player,” said Drinkwitz. “I’m really proud of him. You know, he missed quite a bit of last week just because of the injury, and for him to be… as good of shape as he was in… he does a nice job, he kind of made us go today.”

Badie hit his gaps with speed and was very effective at picking up yards to move the Missouri offense. He managed quite a workload considering the injury Drinkwitz mentioned, one that was not on the pregame injury report. Load management is going to be key for Badie throughout the rest of the year, and Elijah Young showed his capability behind him with a 32-yard rushing touchdown of his own. But, for the Mizzou offense to be as successful as it was on Saturday, the Tigers will need to get the ball into Badie’s hands often.

Downfield attack needs to be more consistent

This likely isn’t a personnel issue more than it is one regarding Drinkwitz’s play calling, but there weren’t many deep shots taken by the Mizzou offense outside of the opening play. Mookie Cooper’s usage largely revolved around the line of scrimmage on jet sweeps and bubble screens, which didn’t produce much gain (12 yards on seven touches). Tauskie Dove only caught the ball once, and Keke Chism was the Tigers’ most-used receiver with only four catches.

The offense is easing into things with new guys at both tackle positions, Hyrin White and Javon Foster. The Tigers conceded two sacks to the Chippewas, contributing to a third of Mizzou’s rushing attempts losing yardage. Connor Wood also saw significant runs in place of Xavier Delgado at times, and the unit has to give Bazelak time to let routes develop.

Drinkwitz surely has tricks up his sleeve as the distribution across the receivers was reminiscent of last year and proves that multiple guys are capable of stepping up. But, in order to keep up with Kentucky, Mizzou will need more from its passing attack to push the ball forward. Bazelak completed 21 of 32 passes for 257 and two touchdowns without any turnovers.

Mizzou’s rushing defense needs to plug interior gaps

Mizzou brought the pressure on Saturday, earning nine sacks throughout the game. Three and a half sacks came from Blaze Alldredge alone, but even he admitted that there were times where the defense wasn’t on top of things.

“In opening games, there’s always sloppiness,” said Alldredge after the game. “There’s always a lot of big plays. It can get hard, too, to prepare for things, because you never really know when an offense is going to come out and shake up the scheme a little bit, which, you know, credit to them. They came out with a good plan, especially on that first drive with some things we weren’t really expecting.”

The big issue for the Tiger defense was stopping the run. Central Michigan’s non-quarterback rushing attempts averaged over 8.6 yards as Lew Nichols III, Marion Lukes and Darius Bracy all pushed into the second level and gashed the defense for big gains on multiple occasions. Under Steve Wilks’ 4-2-5 scheme, the Tigers stacked the box less often and relied on tackles from the secondary to cut off big gains. It all starts in the trenches, and Mizzou will look for improvement from its defensive line to match its pressure output when stopping the run.

Harrison Mevis might be the best kicker in the SEC

Mevis was a perfect 2 for 2 on field goals, good from 53 and 44 yards. Central Michigan tried icing him before his 53-yarder at the end of the first half, but he wasn’t fazed.

“I knew I was going to make it,” Mevis said. “I was pretty confident. Especially after they iced me, so that was kind of a dumb move. I don’t know what they did there.”

Mevis proved his worth last season by hitting 17 of 20 field goals as a freshman. If he continues to improve in this same fashion, then there’s no telling how impactful he will be for the Tigers in close-game situations. Drinkwitz mentioned in his post-game interview how big the momentum heading into the locker room was after Mevis drilled the 53-yarder, and he’ll continue to rally the guys with his big leg.

Georgia’s defense is among the best in the country

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei took seven sacks in Saturday’s 10-3 loss to Georgia, and the Bulldogs defense allowed just two rushing yards. Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean and Adam Anderson stood out among the dominant front-seven showing, and the only touchdown of the game came from a 74-yard pick six from Georgia cornerback Christopher Smith. The performance cemented their rise to the No. 2 spot in the AP Poll, trailing only Alabama. When the offense puts up points, it will be a very tall task to knock down the Bulldogs.

LSU hasn’t returned to national championship form

UCLA pulled off the upset in a 38-27 win over LSU, marking the second year in a row that the Tigers’ season began with a loss. Kayshon Boutte is a superstar in the making, but a lack of production on the ground limited LSU’s offensive capabilities. Defensively, the Tigers had no answers for the UCLA rushing attack and looked vulnerable in coverage away from Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks. 

Special circumstances should be considered, as Hurricane Ida disrupted the team’s travel plans and likely messed up the preparation process. But, a game against Central Michigan in less than two weeks should be a good test to see how LSU responds against an FBS opponent following this weekend’s game against McNeese State.

Kentucky’s dynamic offense poses a big threat

The Wildcats dominated Louisiana-Monroe en route to a 45-10 victory at home. Will Levis shook off a first-drive interception and proceeded to throw for 367 yards and four touchdowns, displaying a deep ball that opened things up for the Kentucky offense. Wan’Dale Robinson and Josh Ali were able to generate space out wide, and running back Chris Rodriguez dashed for 125 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries

The Heartlander will have a more in-depth preview of what Kentucky brings to the table ahead of the Tigers’ 6:30 matchup in Lexington on Saturday, but coach Drinkwitz knows the threat of the Wildcats.

“We’re nowhere near ready to play such a good team on the road.”

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