Knee-Jerk Reactions: Tennessee 35, Missouri 12

A day that was filled with missed tackles, dropped passes and a few more mistakes in-between led to a not-so-uplifting performance for Missouri in week 2. The Tennessee Volunteers dictated the proceedings right from the opening drive, and that led to a 35-12 victory at Neyland Stadium to drop the Tigers to 0-2. Missouri fans had a lot to be optimistic about after a week 1 loss to #2 Alabama, as the individual efforts from some players showed signs of brighter things to come later in the schedule. But after week 2, it appears fans will have to wait a little later for those efforts to result in a win.

Here are my Knee-Jerk Reactions after the Tigers’ first road loss of the year:

The run defense had some real issues

They had their hands full with Alabama’s Najee Harris last week and did a nice job of not allowing huge plays from him. That wasn’t the case in Knoxville. Eric Gray and Ty Chandler gashed the Missouri defense for 195 yards combined and a touchdown apiece. Add on the fact that the Tigers only had two tackles for loss, which were both sacks, so neither of those were on designed run plays from the Vols.

You give due credit to Tennessee’s offensive line for run-blocking, but the Tigers’ linebackers and safeties seemed to have a much tougher time clogging up the holes. That left them much more vulnerable when the Vols chose to stretch the field on long passing plays.

Connor Bazelak should be the starting quarterback

Shawn Robinson got the start again for Missouri, but never looked comfortable and didn’t appear to improve his decision-making between weeks 1 and 2. Bazelak took over at the start of the second quarter and immediately gave the offense a spark. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 218 yards and one interception. What those numbers don’t show is that about half of his incompletions were straight-up drops by Missouri receivers, and the one pick was probably his only bad throw of the day.

This would typically put a first-year head coach like Eli Drinkwitz in a tough spot, but this is exactly why he didn’t list a starting quarterback on the depth chart, even after Robinson took the bulk of the snaps last week. That being said, I really don’t think you can justify going back to Robinson at this point. Bazelak by far looked like the more poised performer, and didn’t panic even when plays started to break down. His accuracy and downfield throwing ability seems to outweigh both the throwing and running aspect of Robinson’s game right now.

A consistent pass rush is still out of Missouri’s reach

Trajan Jeffcoat – who rejoined the team just a month-and-a-half ago, but has been Missouri’s most effective pass rusher so far – got an early sack on the first quarter. Isaiah McGuire came up with another one on 3rd and long at the end of the third. Other than that, the Tigers’ pass rush left a lot to be desired, especially on third down situations. Tennessee went 6-of-13 on third down after going just 1-of-11 last week.

Missouri’s secondary had some questionable moments guarding Tennessee’s receivers (the absence of Jarvis Ware didn’t help), but the defense has to take that next step and not rely on the back end so much. A senior-laden defensive line in the SEC should be able to hold its own.

Larry Rountree deserves to get 25 carries every week

He ended up with 18 carries, 84 yards and Missouri’s only touchdown on the day. His longest run was 28. That follows up a performance against Alabama in week 1 where he got 14 carries for 67 yards. He was right at that same mark of 4.8 yards per carry against Tennessee as he was last week.

He’s obviously gotten a healthy share of work, but I’m a little surprised that Drinkwitz hasn’t gone to him even more often. So far in two games, he’s given you exactly what you would expect out of him, which is a tough, downhill runner that can accelerate into space. I thought the offensive line saw an improvement between weeks 1 and 2, giving Rountree that same room to work. If that keeps up, Rountree should become even more of a focal point to this offense.

This week was less encouraging, but no one should even be anywhere close to sounding the alarm

Keep in mind that this is just about as tough of an opening few weeks that the Tigers could possibly have, with #2 Alabama to open, then two road games against Top 25 teams. You took one glance at this schedule well before this week and probably envisioned an 0-3 start. It doesn’t look encouraging when you actually live it out, but this is what an 0-3 start can look like.

That’s not to say that Missouri can’t win next weekend in Baton Rouge, against an LSU team that opened the season with a letdown of its own. It means you still have to remember how new this system is and how little time has been allowed for the coaching staff to install it. There were a few promising moments on both sides of the ball for the Tigers. There was even a special teams highlight, as freshman kicker Harrison Mevis nailed a 50-yard field goal. However, just a few of those moments usually isn’t enough to win you football games, and that’s what Drinkwitz will tell his team and the public all next week. It sounds simplistic, but a little patience can go a long way in a weird season like this.