All those good vibes from wins over LSU and Kentucky were quickly doused for Missouri after a Halloween night in the Swamp. Both the performance on the field and the shoving and punching match between Missouri and Florida players heading into halftime did the job to bring all that Tiger momentum to a halt in a 41-17 loss Saturday.
There really aren’t a ton of bright spots to speak of for the Tigers, except a 59-yard pick-six by Jarvis Ware that gave Missouri a second-quarter lead of 7-6, which accounted for the Tigers’ first interception of the year. What followed after that was a complete unraveling. The Gators responded with 28 unanswered points, giving them the ability to cruise through the fourth quarter with the game pretty much decided. For a team that had a lot of question marks following a COVID-19 outbreak and quarantine period, a comfortable win like that is exactly what they needed. It also left Missouri trying to take inventory of everything that went wrong.
Let’s dive into some of those items of concern in this week’s Knee-Jerk Reactions:
The defense had no answer for Kadarius Toney and the Florida pass attack
The Florida offense, led by Kyle Trask, didn’t suffer from any quarantine lull. Trask got a clean pocket often enough to rack up 345 yards passing and four touchdowns, and there didn’t seem to be much adjustment from the Tigers defensively. Even though Kyle Pitts didn’t show the huge numbers he had in prior games, he still managed five catches for 81 yards. Toney ended up being the star skill player of the night, scoring three total touchdowns and gaining 83 all-purpose yards.
Sure, Missouri has solid talent on the back end of its defense, and that was thought to be the strength of the whole unit coming into the season. But there are some serious questions to be asked after Saturday’s game, especially after seeing some of the tackling efforts. The Tigers have given up more than 300 passing yards in three of their five games. It’s against good competition, but when you’re in the SEC, you aren’t going to face the Terry Wilson-Joey Gatewood tandem every week. This game featured a few too many breakdowns in coverage to feel great about that aspect of Missouri’s defense going forward.
A depleted offensive line is one of the last things Missouri needs right now
The Tigers were down two starters, right tackle Larry Borom and left guard Xavier Delgado, before the start of this game. Left tackle Zeke Powell left the game with an injury as well. Those were big losses for a group that is already dealing with depth issues, after several season-ending injuries and opt-outs from other linemen on the roster.
The linemen that were able to take the field against Florida could not seem to get any sort of rhythm themselves. Missouri only managed 40 rushing yards as a team and allowed Connor Bazelak to get sacked three times. It’s obviously tough when you have to mix and match guys that haven’t gotten as much playing time, but the lack of consistency from that unit Saturday put the Tigers behind schedule quite a bit. You certainly hope that the injuries to those three starters aren’t very serious, especially Borom, who has been one of the better performers in the country at his position so far. But if they start to linger after the bye week for those guys, there could be more problems to solve on that front.
Drops became a killer for offensive production again
Bazelak had an off game. He wasn’t as accurate (26-of-40) as he’s been in the past couple of games, but it certainly didn’t help that a few of those incompletions could’ve been avoided. Probably the most gutting drop of the game was on the part of Jalen Knox, who probably could’ve taken a long ball to the end zone in the second quarter, but appeared to take his eyes off the ball before looking it into his hands. That could’ve given the Tigers an eight-point lead at the time, and at least could’ve led to a much better ending to the first half.
It’s hard enough when your more experienced receivers can’t consistently bring in their targets when they get good deliveries, which is what Bazelak has given them for the most part. It’s another thing to have those drops at inopportune times, whether it be on third down or on busted coverages down the field. Add in the fact that Missouri couldn’t establish a solid running attack, and you’ve got an offense that found itself stuck in the mud.
Florida coach Dan Mullen should get some sort of punishment from the league office
Let’s just analyze this whole thing: On the last play of the first half, Florida tried a hail-mary to the end zone, which was incomplete. Trajan Jeffcoat hit Trask a little late after he threw the ball. It was a hit that could’ve, and probably should’ve, drawn a flag. It didn’t. Florida’s players were upset on the hit on their quarterback, Missouri players responded, and then we get the scuffle.
Here’s what Dan Mullen did following that last play: he runs onto the field, starts yelling at players and coaches on the Missouri side, has to be held back by an assistant coach, then continues to yell at the other side when the two crowds of players start to separate. That surely doesn’t sound like someone who was “trying to get our players off the field,” as Mullen claimed after the game. Combine that with him pumping up the crowd as he finally walked into the tunnel, then feeling the need to show up to his postgame presser in a Darth Vader costume, whether it was a pre-planned Halloween act or not.
It’s clear that no one involved in the scuffle was in the right. It’s also clear that Mullen looked the worst after it all ended. Some other folks will get handed punishments by the SEC for their roles in that dust-up, and Mullen should be one of them.
It could be a long couple of weeks with no game for Missouri’s players
It’s definitely not a good look for Missouri players in those halftime events, and it’s reasonable to think that Tre Williams won’t be the only one getting punished by officials and/or the league for it. It’s even worse when you put together an on-field performance that makes your team look a lot different than the one that ran past the likes of LSU and Kentucky in weeks prior. Defensive lapses, offensive woes and untimely penalties put the Tigers behind the 8-ball all night. It’s fair to say that discipline was lacking both inside and outside the whistles. All that could add up to a not-so-fun week of practice for the whole team.
That said, this team still has a clear path to finishing at 5-5. The next opponent, Georgia, is really the only unfavorable game left on Missouri’s schedule. After that, at least three wins out of South Carolina Arkansas, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt is attainable. Even after a sour-tasting loss like this one, Eli Drinkwitz still has his program in a spot that most probably didn’t expect. Another two weeks to reset, heal up and patch up the holes might be exactly what the Tigers need.