ATHENS, Ga. – With less than a minute left in the first quarter, the Tigers forced top-ranked Georgia to a 4th and 6 on the Mizzou 35. With a 3-0 lead behind them, Missouri football was unexpectedly threatening the best team in the country.
But Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett connected with Arian Smith on a deep shot to the corner of the end zone, taking away a Mizzou lead that the Tigers would never regain. After Georgia scored on a blocked punt safety and a touchdown on the ensuing drive, Mizzou failed to convert on 4th and 1 inside Georgia territory.
“In a game like this, when you’re playing against the number one team in the country, you’ve gotta make those plays,” Missouri head football coach Eliah Drinkwitz said, “and we didn’t make them today. But I was proud of our guys.”
Mizzou wouldn’t score again until the fourth quarter, as the Georgia defense set in and held the Tigers to their lowest total yardage in a game all season.
With Tyler Macon and Brady Cook both seeing significant snaps at quarterback, the Tigers offense couldn’t get going in the air. Both guys were effective in moving out of the pocket for yards, but they both showed growing pains as pocket passers facing a stout opposition.
Here are some key takeaways from the Tigers’ performance in Athens.
Macon and Cook aren’t immediately thriving
It’s hard to evaluate freshmen in their first starting outing when it comes against the best defense in college football. But, neither quarterback was outstanding, both unable to lead a touchdown drive throughout the entire game.
“I thought both of them had good and bad,” Drinkwitz said. “Some learning experiences for both of them. We weren’t really able to consistently throw the ball with them, and it’s something we’re going to have to work on.”
Macon drew the start, and his most effective stuff came on the read option. He ran for 28 yards on the Tigers’ first scoring drive, putting them in field goal range thanks to a big 20-yard gain on a play that Drinkwitz wouldn’t usually draw up with the less explosive Connor Bazelak.
But, he missed a lot of passing reads, notably during the second quarter when Mizzou trailed 16-3. His throws looked much better in the fourth quarter, including a couple of long strikes to Tauskie Dove, but Macon’s accuracy was shaky at best, only completing 6 of 13 passes.
Cook, on the other hand, was much more efficient with his passes. He completed 14 of 19 passes, making a lot of shorter checkdown throws reminiscent of Bazelak’s operation of the offense. If anything, his biggest mistake of the day was going down a yard short of the first-down marker on a third-down run in the second quarter, drawing the ire of Drinkwitz.
Based on Saturday’s performance alone, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both of them take snaps again against South Carolina if Bazelak is once again unable to go. Drinkwitz said that it will take until Wednesday or Thursday to know if Bazelak will have a shot at returning, so continue to monitor the injury situation throughout the week to see who the Tigers will roll out to lead the offense.
Mizzou run defense demonstrated dramatic improvement
Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks wasn’t lying when he said the Tigers defense would focus on stopping the run, allowing a season-low 168 rushing yards. It wasn’t perfect, like when Georgia DE Jordan Davis wrecked through the defensive line as a fullback blocker on the goalline, but it truly did force the Bulldogs into the air.
Mizzou often stacked the box, leaving secondary guys in single man coverage with a lone safety. That was a main reason as to why the Tigers couldn’t stop the Georgia passing attack, but linebackers Chad Bailey and Blaze Alldredge were key components of an improved Tigers run defense.
Bailey has really come into his own over the last few weeks, filling a void at a thin linebacker position with disciplined play. His 10 tackles against Georgia were a season-high for the redshirt junior.
Another standout performer was Jaylon Carlies, who will be a top asset for the Tigers in the next couple of years. The sophomore secured his fourth interception of the season by picking off JT Daniels in the final minute of the third quarter, and he leads the Tigers with five takeaways on the year. He tied Bailey for the team lead with 10 tackles.
Mizzou needs to earn a couple of big wins to qualify for postseason play
The Tigers currently sit at 4-5 on the season, leaving them in a spot where they have to win two games in order to qualify for a postseason bowl game. They’ve got South Carolina, Florida and Arkansas left on their schedule, and the dynamics for the first two games are going to be interesting considering the Gamecocks’ dominant 40-17 win over the Gators this past Saturday. 284 of South Carolina’s 459 yards came on the ground in that win, so Mizzou will once again need to see its run defense on its A-game if they’re going to handle business at home against the Gamecocks this Saturday.