Missouri’s bad luck in Thursday night games continued in a 31-13 loss to No. 20 Mississippi State. The loss was Mizzou’s fourth straight, and dropped the Tigers to 0-3 all-time when hosting Thursday night game. But the Tigers did show some signs of life offensively for the first time in over a month.
This was Mizzou’s best offensive performance since a 24-10 win over South Carolina on Oct. 3. The Tigers ended the drought, scoring their first touchdowns since the third quarter against the Gamecocks. The drought spanned 226 minutes of game action, lasted three full games and parts of two others. But, the lone touchdown and eclipsing 300 yards of total offense doesn’t make up for the fact that this unit is still lacking.
Drew Lock looked good at times and looked like an 18-year old freshman in other moments, completing 11 of his 26 attempts for 107 yards and throwing a pair of interceptions, which were Mizzou’s only turnovers for the game. Keeping him upright was again a problem as Lock was sacked five times. He did complete some nice, rhythm throws in the second half, hitting fellow freshman Emanuel Hall for a pair of first downs, which could be something to build on moving forward. For the first time since Lock took over the offense, the Tigers committed to the run and had some success on the ground, rushing for 262 yards and ripping off 4.8 yards per carry.
The star of the night was definitely former walk-on Tyler Hunt, who continued to prove that he needs more touches. Hunt became the first player since Jeremy Maclin in 2008 to lead Mizzou in both rushing and receiving, finishing the game 85 rushing yards and 35 receiving yards on a total of seven touches.
But, the fact still remains that 13 points will rarely be enough to win games. The playmakers have to produce at some point.
It would seem since the Tigers gave up 31 points that they didn’t play well defensively, but that wasn’t the case at all. Credit Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs for presenting the most dynamic offense Mizzou has seen this season.
Mississippi State scored easily on its first drive, but struggled for much of the first half, with the second touchdown coming on the heels of a 69-yard kickoff return that gave the Bulldogs the ball at Mizzou’s 29. The Tigers forced a pair of turnovers and a trio of three-and-outs in the first half.
This unit has been standing on its head to keep Mizzou in games and you have to wonder what the mental and physical toll of doing so has been, especially whenever it gets minimal help from the offense. In the second half the pass rush wasn’t as explosive as it was earlier, which is why Prescott was able to have a big game.
You have to like the two turnovers created and the fact that senior linebacker Kentrell Brothers played big with 14 tackles, a forced fumble and a blocked punt. Sophomore Charles Harris and freshman Walter Brady each had a sack from their defensive end spots and safety Anthony Sherrils had one of his best games of the season with eight tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
If you want to pick on an area, it would be the secondary. Considering the three sacks and eight hurries the front seven created, you’d like to see an interception somewhere.
Special Teams: C
Freshman punter Corey Fatony was impressive considering the amount of rain that came down. Same story for Andrew Baggett, who knocked home a pair of field goals while the rain was at its heaviest.
Mizzou continued to get nothing from its own return game, finishing with just 61 yards on four kickoff returns; Mississippi State had that on one play in what ended up being a momentum killer. The Bulldogs scored quickly and on the ensuing possession Lock was intercepted, leading to another Mississippi State score. With the offense struggling it would be nice to find a spark in the return game to set up some shorter fields.
The play calling must improve. At this point it isn’t a secret that the offense is horrible; it’s the running joke of the SEC. With a young quarterback, few playmakers and an offensive line that can’t pass protect, offensive coordinator Josh Henson called passes on the first six plays of the game. The result: three yards. The following drive Mizzou started with four runs for 29 yards, before calling another pass that ended in a Lock interception.
On Mizzou’s fourth possession the Tigers again went three-and-out and all three plays were passing plays.
All parties involved would be better served if the Tigers committed and stuck with the run. It would make life easier for Lock and the offensive line especially.
Despite the final score, Thursday’s loss felt better than the three preceding defeats. There was certainly some improvement offensively and maybe this was the first step toward establishing a new identity. Aside from the third quarter, the Tigers really didn’t play that bad.
Regardless of any moral victories, something has got to be done to start winning games if Mizzou wants to play in another bowl game. The optimistic side of me wants to say that with nine days to prepare for BYU we should see one of the best Mizzou performances all season.