The Tigers needed to set an early tone at Faurot Field on Saturday after their 62-24 pummeling by the Tennessee Volunteers a week ago. Against a team whose resume couldn’t match that of Missouri as an SEC team, fans looked for a resounding response.
Mizzou football lived up to the Homecoming occasion with a 48-35 victory over North Texas. Tyler Badie was the star of the show, setting a career-high with 209 rushing yards along with three touchdowns. Three big takeaways, including Kris Abrams-Draine’s second interception of the year and a pick-six from Mekhi Wingo, helped the Tigers win the turnover battle.
“Good to get a win,” Missouri head football coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. “Proud of Mekhi Wingo, Trajan Jeffcoat on the interception. Obviously, we had two fumble recoveries. I think Kris Abrams-Draine had both a fumble recovery and an interception. Really good stuff by those guys and that’s the energy and effort we got to play with on defense.”
The Tigers led by as much as 41-14, but the Mean Green Eagles exploded offensively in the fourth quarter. A 60-yard touchdown run from Dawson Downing finally put the game out of reach, giving the Tigers a 48-28 lead before North Texas added a third touchdown to lessen the deficit.
Here’s the key takeaways from Mizzou’s important win and from around college football.
Tiger offense returns to success running the football
Missouri struggled mightily on the ground last week against Tennessee, limiting the versatility of the offense who quickly found themselves in a position to pass. Against North Texas, a commitment to the run game paid off.
“I think I just decided going into this game that we were going to make sure the run game got going,” said Drinkwitz, “and try to stay out of third and longs and try to make sure that we weren’t putting too much pressure on everybody else to be perfect.”
If anybody was perfect, it was Badie, who constantly threatened out of the backfield in the first half. His determination showed on multiple plays, especially on this tackle-breaking 42-yard gain in the third quarter.
His big day bolstered an adequate passing performance from the offense, highlighted by Connor Bazelak’s 41-yard touchdown pass to JJ Hester. A couple of big third-down conversions from Bazelak to Keke Chism kept scoring drives alive, and Bazelak refrained from any big mistakes while taking a backseat to what was generating yards. This balance is what Drinkwitz has consistently tried to get from his offense, leading to scores on half of the Tigers’ offensive possessions.
Best game of the year for the run defense
In defensive line coach Al Davis’ first game in his new role, his unit conceded just 3.8 yards per rush, the best mark Mizzou has put up all year. Ten Tigers made tackles for loss, and the Eagles offense really didn’t get off the ground until the second half.
“I thought they played well, you know,” said Drinkwitz, “Specifically, we had several negative plays, I thought they rushed the passer really well, and then obviously, any time you get a big man touchdown, that’s a pretty good day at the office.”
Wingo was a difference-maker on the defensive line, even without the touchdown that gave Steve Wilks’ defense its first “Score on D”. Akayleb Evans forced two fumbles, one of which led to a turnover, and Chad Bailey stepped up for the linebacker unit in his best performance this season. It was a team effort for the Tigers in the face of uncertainty with Drinkwitz’s abandonment of the depth chart.
“That’s how it’s going to be the rest of the year,” Drinkwitz said, “So you come to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, and whoever practices the best is going to start. We’re going to evaluate the film, see where we’re at and open it up for competition. I mean, there’s no strategy, there’s no motivational ploy, there’s just reality. Like, whoever practices the best is going to play, period. This program is going to be built on competition, and that’s who we’re gonna be. That’s no motivational tactic, this ain’t no Ted Lasso.”
Late secondary lapses unnecessarily brought UNT back into fold
Even with the game-changing plays from Abrams-Draine and Evans, it wasn’t all roses and rainbows from the Tigers defense. Mizzou gave up 200 yards and three touchdowns in less than five minutes, including two wide open deep passes with broken coverage.
This was the Tigers’ first outing without Ennis Rakestraw, and North Texas had one of its best passing performances of the year in totality. Obviously, the game was a bit out of reach at the onset of the fourth quarter, but the late-game struggles have been evident in previous games, notably against SEMO. They’ve shown the ability to lock in down the stretch, but as depth thins, it may become more difficult especially against stronger opponents.
Kentucky at Georgia is a fascinating matchup
Both the Wildcats and Bulldogs took care of business on Saturday, Kentucky beating LSU 42-21 and Georgia taking down Auburn 34-10. The big wins extended each of their undefeated seasons, and a matchup at Sanford Stadium will set forth a clear leader in the SEC East.
Kentucky hasn’t been nearly as dominant in their victories as Georgia, but Will Levis’ best performance of the year came against an albeit injured LSU defense, supplemented by 100 yards from both Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke. Georgia’s defensive dominance continued against Auburn, shutting down Tank Bigsby and limiting Bo Nix to just 217 yards and zero touchdowns through the air. The Bulldogs are heavy favorites (-23.5) at home, but Kentucky may be able to surprise if they can limit either Stetson Bennett or JT Daniels.
Texas A&M rides into Columbia on a high
The 12th Man showed up at Kyle Field last weekend in Texas A&M’s upset 41-38 victory over top-ranked Alabama. The Aggies turned it around following a two-game losing streak, and Zach Calzada looked much improved at the helm of the offense, throwing a massive touchdown pass late and hanging in on the last drive after suffering a knee injury.
Missouri gets the privilege of hosting Texas A&M after the highlight win of Jimbo Fisher’s tenure in College Station, and they’ll need everything to be working to shut down a tough offense that will test the Tigers’ run defense integrity with Isaiah Spiller. The Aggies opened as 9.5-point favorites over Mizzou, and that game will kick off at 11 a.m. at Faurot Field.