Mizzou football needs surge of confidence ahead of North Texas

Mizzou football’s 62-24 loss against Tennessee couldn’t have gone much worse for the Tigers, a dysfunctional performance from both units culminating in the Tigers’ worst loss since 2008.

“We weren’t connected,” Missouri head football coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. “I mean, it’s just when I watched the tape, you know, what we’re saying we’re supposed to and what we’re doing isn’t working, and so whatever it is, it just, it wasn’t working. So there was a disconnect between what we felt like should be happening and what was happening.”

The North Texas Eagles and the Missouri Tigers both enter Saturday’s Homecoming matchup on a losing streak. North Texas is coming off its bye week following two Conference-USA losses to Louisiana Tech and UAB as well as a 35-12 loss to SMU, leaving the Mean Green at a 1-3 mark in 2021. 

Arguably, North Texas’ biggest pitfall has been the failure to establish a strong passing attack. The Eagles started sophomore Jace Ruder in all four games this season, but Austin Aune looks to have decisively taken over the starting role after Ruder’s dismal 3 for 10 passing performance against Louisiana Tech. Aune uses his legs well, and the Tigers will confront a weakness in keeping contain yet again if he rolls out as the starter. Aune ran for 56 yards on nine attempts in the Louisiana Tech loss.

The Eagles generate the majority of their offense from the run game, powered by leading rusher DeAndre Torrey. He’s accumulated at least 70 rushing yards in each game this season, including a 245-yard performance in North Texas’ lone win this season against Arkansas State. He will be the point person in Seth Littrell and Mike Bloesch’s offense, especially considering that two of the Eagles’ top weapons coming into the year, Jyaire Shorter and Tommy Bush, will be absent from the playing field at Faurot.

Mizzou is not immune from the injury bug, though. The Tigers took a big hit earlier in the week when the team revealed that Ennis Rakestraw tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season. A secondary that allowed an extremely efficient outing from Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker is even thinner, and the Tigers will need Allie Green IV and Ish Burdine to step into every-down roles in Rakestraw’s absence.

Darius Robinson and Realus George will also miss the game, adding to the defensive depletion of a unit whose struggles have been glaring thus far. Case Cook is once again listed as questionable, as is Mason Pack. Mookie Cooper, Barrett Banister and Niko Hea all avoid the injury list, leaving the offense in a good spot in terms of skill position players.

It’s clear that Missouri needs to bounce back from its most undisciplined performance of the season.

“The thing that’s prudent to me is that it wasn’t just a defensive issue,” Drinkwitz said. “We didn’t play well enough on offense. We had too many penalties. We didn’t block well on the perimeter. We self-inflicted wounds, turned the football over, things that were uncharacteristic, so all of that stuff is stuff that needs to be fixed.”

And even considering how outmatched the Tigers looked last week and their defensive struggles all season, the North Texas game provides a chance for a rebound. North Texas hasn’t played against an SEC opponent since 2018, when the Eagles knocked off an eventual 2-8 Arkansas team 44-17 in Fayetteville. Missouri shut out the Razorbacks 37-0 later that season.

The Tigers once again will know what to expect defensively, and the steps they are taking to address the run defense will once again be crucial ahead of game time. Considering North Texas’ defensive woes, the Tigers shouldn’t have much issue scoring points if they can get back to giving running lanes for Tyler Badie and implementing the balanced Drinkwitz offense that has kept Missouri in games all year. 

The Tigers will look to get back to .500 when action kicks off at Faurot Field at 3 p.m. The game will be televised on SEC Network.

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