Drinkwitz creativity key in 45-41 upset over LSU

Missouri's new coach dove deep into his bag of tricks against the defending national champions.
Tyler Badie scores a touchdown in Missouri's win over LSU on Oct. 10, 2020. SEC Media Portal

It takes something special to hang in a football game against the defending national champions.

In week one, Mississippi State unleashed its new “air-raid offense,” which generated 632 total yards, enough to upset LSU in Baton Rouge. When LSU travelled to Nashville, Vanderbilt just couldn’t keep up with the Tigers in any facet of the game.

Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz had a few tricks up his sleeve when the LSU Tigers came to town, and he flashed them early and often.

“I think we kept them off balance with our formations and motion,” Drinkwitz said.

On the game’s first snap, running back Larry Rountree III lined up in shotgun while both quarterbacks Connor Bazelak and Shawn Robinson lined up out wide. The play went for just three yards, but the unorthodox call showed that Drinkwitz wasn’t going to be afraid to make creative calls throughout the afternoon.

Drinkwitz flexed his play-calling muscle again just three snaps later, scheming up a flea-flicker that worked to perfection as receiver Tauskie Dove ran behind the LSU defense and into the end zone for a 58-yard touchdown, giving Missouri the lead.

“We wanted to set it up with the first two plays, establishing the run,” Drinkwitz said. “We got a first-down completion on that third down. Tyler Badie comes in and makes a great catch for us and sets [the flea-flicker] up. Great job by the offensive staff and great execution.”

Missouri tested its luck on the second drive, attempting a fake punt on fourth-and-three, but punter Grant McKinniss’ throw wasn’t close.

The Tigers started from behind in each of their first two games, so the goal against LSU was to score early and play from ahead. Finding pay dirt on the flea-flicker made an instant impact that set the tone for the rest of the game.

“I think [the opening touchdown] gave us confidence that we can move the ball whenever we want on these guys,” Bazelak said. “We got out to a lead early –– we always talk about starting fast –– and that’s what we did.”

Creative play-calling opened up Missouri’s offense, and Bazelak took advantage by throwing for 406 yards and four touchdowns. The recently-named starting quarterback impressed once again, time after time making the right read and throwing well-placed balls.

In the second quarter, Missouri sent receiver Jalen Knox into motion, but it was just eye candy as Bazelak pitched the ball up the middle to receiver Niko Hea. Drinkwitz sent Knox into motion once more on the ensuing play, but that time the junior did get the ball and he took it to the house for a 16-yard touchdown.

Even redshirt senior Micah Wilson got in on the action, catching a 41-yard touchdown at the start of the second half to tie the game at 31. When Wilson received the ball, nobody wearing purple and gold was within ten yards of him in any direction –– the definition of scheming a player open.

“I don’t know if there was a miscommunication or not, but [the safety] was low,” Wilson said. “When I saw him go low, I was like ‘house call.’”

Earlier in the week, Drinkwitz said he didn't coach well enough to win either of the first two games. He coached well on Saturday afternoon, but it almost wasn’t enough to overcome three lost fumbles which spotted LSU 10 points. There is still plenty to clean up execution-wise, but Drinkwitz called a near-perfect game, and his players expressed the utmost confidence in him.

“Coach Drink, he’s pretty creative with his play calling, so we know going in that if he says that we’re going to run it, we’re going to run it,” Rountree said. “We’re going to execute in the way he wants us to. That’s what we did, and that’s what worked when Tauskie Dove scored the touchdown.”

Vegas listed Missouri as 14-point home underdogs, but the Tigers from Columbia never played like they were two touchdowns worse. Bazelak and the Missouri offense strung together three 75-plus-yard touchdown drives, each taking no longer than two minutes. The offense put up 283 total yards of offense in the first half. And when they needed to call on their defense, it put together a critical goal-line stand with the game on the line.

The SEC is loaded with talented teams. The difference between a win and loss in this 10-game all-conference schedule will come down to the margins. For Missouri, that starts by winning games on the sidelines with creative play calling.

Missouri did everything it could to hang against LSU on Saturday. And in a shocking twist of events, they won.

“Our guys didn’t flinch today,” Drinkwitz said. “They didn’t flinch after terrible turnovers, they didn’t flinch after getting the ball on the one-yard line. They didn’t flinch being down, they just kept fighting. That’s our number one core value –– always compete. And I’m damn proud of this football team.”

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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