Well, that was something.
At least in recent years, it hasn’t been all that often that Missouri has found itself in the middle of a shootout like they had against No. 16 LSU, much less win one like that. With the way, Missouri’s offense had struggled early this year, I thought the only way the Tigers could knock off the Bayou Bengals was to keep that total score low. But lo and behold, Missouri kept getting back up off the mat and delivering counterpunches against a tough LSU offense and wound up with a thrilling 45-41 victory Saturday.
This game is one I think Missouri fans will remember for a long time. Not just because it’s an upset win against a ranked opponent, and not just because it’s the first win in the Eli Drinkwitz era. The way it happened left fans with so many notable moments. The flea-flicker pass to Tauskie Dove. The “Thiccer” Harrison Mevis nailing a 52-yard field goal, the longest in Missouri history for a freshman. The blocked LSU field goal in the fourth quarter. Coming back from what seemed to be fumble after fumble through the second and third quarters. The four-down goal line stand by the defense with time running out. Those moments that swung momentum Missouri’s way were just enough to knock off a tough opponent.
I could say so much more, but here are my Knee-Jerk Reactions from Week 3:
Eli Drinkwitz and Connor Bazelak are the right men to lead this offense
To beat a team like LSU, you have to find a way to make up the gap that’s created by the talent mismatch. That usually happens with some creativity, and man, did the head coach provide a lot of that. Not just the flea-flicker near the start of the game, but using guys with speed to create advantageous matchups for other players. He pulled out the deception plays at the exact right moments (save for maybe the fake punt in the first quarter). It’s precisely what Missouri’s offense needed after a 2019 season that left a lot to be desired.
The quarterback discussion is done, too. Bazelak never backed away from adverse situations, which included not having three of the four most targeted wide receivers through the first two weeks. Sure, LSU’s pass defense isn’t what it once was, but having more than 400 yards passing, four touchdowns and only five incompletions has to put the rest of the league on notice. If Bazelak is showing us just a sliver of what is to come in his Missouri career, that should make Tiger fans plenty happy.
The offensive line has shown steady improvement week by week
All of the uncertainty coming into the season seems to be gone now. Once Missouri filled the open guard and tackle spots and gained some consistency at the position, this group, which has dealt with depth issues because of opt-outs and injuries, is finally doing its job.
Bazelak was sacked only once, and was given plenty of time to distribute the ball. On top of that, Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie were given the chances to burst into open space. Rountree had his first 100-plus yard game, with 18 carries for 119, and Badie had five carries for 39 yards and a touchdown. It will go overlooked because of the numbers from those running backs and Bazelak, but when you don’t hear a lot of mention about the offensive line, it usually means those guys are producing. They were huge for Missouri Saturday.
Missouri finally found some defensive disruption on third down
Coming into Saturday, teams facing Missouri were converting third downs more often than not (15-of-27). Missouri didn’t allow a single third down conversion against LSU (0-of-10). A number of times, we saw linebackers and safeties come on the blitz, and Ryan Walters seemed to dial that up at the perfect moments. That helped, considering the defensive line position was a depleted group as well this week.
The secondary deserves quite a bit of credit, too. Missouri had seven pass breakups from that group Saturday, against some big, athletic receivers and tight ends on the LSU side. The two freshmen, Ennis Rakestraw and Ishmael Burdine, showed exactly why they were so high up on the depth chart to start this year. There’s still some work to do in that department, as Myles Brennan still threw for over 400 yards himself, but if the defensive pressure from the front four came ramp up later in the season, that’ll give even more opportunities for those studs on the back end to make plays.
Nick Bolton is a deserved All-American linebacker
Bolton was dealing with injury leading up to, and during, this contest. While he didn’t go into detail as to the extent, he made it clear postgame that “pain is temporary, wins last forever.” And that performance he put together down the stretch is exactly why he’s been placed on so many awards watch lists.
The secondary guys were good, but it was actually Bolton who led the defense in pass breakups, with three against LSU. You’ll certainly remember the one he had on third and goal from the one-yard line with time winding down. When a guy affects not only the pass game, but also provides the pocket pressure to the degree that Bolton showed in this game, awards voters can’t ignore the man. The AP named him a 2nd team preseason All-American for a reason, and he’s proving why they were right, and why he should be on the postseason list, too.
The program has the optimism it needs
When Barry Odom got fired at the end of last year, AD Jim Sterk said they need to hire a guy that will regain the momentum the program showed not that long before. Eli Drinkwitz did everything he could during the offseason without coaching a game to turn that wheel once again. But when fall comes around, he had to give Tiger fans something to be excited about on the field. He and the Tigers delivered exactly that.
Everyone, including me, picked Missouri to start out 0-3, which no one should’ve been upset about. The start of the schedule wasn’t favorable. To be honest, just playing all of the games in a year like this should be a success. But with other first-year head coaches in the SEC getting unexpected wins early in the season, it’s refreshing that Drinkwitz can finally join that group and officially announce his arrival with a signature win like this. You could really only find two games on the schedule that Missouri would be favored in at the start of the season. Grabbing this win means that Missouri has an outside shot of being a .500 team, which in my mind would be a huge success for Drinkwitz in year one.