Five takeaways: Bazelak, offensive line have work to do

Drinkwitz was critical of Bazelak’s play against South Carolina, especially toward the end of the first half.
Connor Bazelak and Eli Drinkwitz discuss the next play during Missouri's 17-10 win over South Carolina on Nov. 21, 2020. SEC Media Portal

Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz was overwhelmingly positive about his team’s performance in Saturday’s win over South Carolina, with one exception.

“Right before half, [quarterback Connor Bazelak] can’t throw the swing route when there’s 13 seconds left, he’s got to wait and he had both slicers open for a touchdown,” Drinkwitz said after the game, referencing a reception by Keke Chism who was nearly tackled in bounds. If he was, it would have prevented the Tigers from scoring three points before halftime.

“Oh, yeah, you can’t throw an interception in the red zone, underthrow the ball,” Drinkwitz said. “The ball’s on the 23-yard line and he threw it to the two. That’s a pretty terrible throw, so we got those two things to correct.”

Drinkwitz, who to his credit is typically honest with the media when asked to evaluate himself and his players, did not approve of his quarterback’s performance. Nor should he.

Bazelak started the night with a dime to receiver Tauskie Dove, finding him one-on-one in the left corner of the end zone. He placed the ball perfectly into his hands, over the outstretched arms of the defender.

Near the end of the first half, Bazelak maintained solid numbers, but he started to flash some inaccuracy and poor decision-making, like the two mistakes Drinkwitz referenced. His mechanics looked off as well, as he wasn’t stepping into his throws, rather trying to do it all with his upper body.

In the second half, he routinely sailed throws over the heads of receivers, which is a symptom of that mechanical problem.

“We just gotta play all four quarters,” Bazelak said. “I thought we played well in the first half. Obviously, the interception can’t happen, but we just gotta play all four quarters and play better in the second half.”

Missouri picked their starting receivers

Speaking of Dove, the redshirt sophomore has established himself as one of Missouri’s starting outside receivers, along with Chism.

“I just gave him a chance,” Bazelak said on the touchdown. “I liked the matchup with him on their corner, and I just gave him a chance to go up and get it and he made a great play. I’m happy for him.”

Drinkwitz talked during the bye week(s) about narrowing the depth chart at wide receiver, and he did. Dove, Chism, Jalen Knox and Barrett Banister got the vast majority of reps for Missouri, with true freshman Jay Maclin seeing a couple of snaps in his college debut.

Damon Hazelton, who struggled with drops early in the season, didn’t see the field. As far as reporters know, he is healthy.

Chism had by far his best day in black and gold, hauling in six passes for 57 yards. He dropped a pass, which has been a consistent issue for him through six games, but in general, he provided a reliable set of hands for Bazelak.

“Yeah, he’s been playing well in the last couple games and in practice over the long break,” Bazelak said. “He’s a guy that’s a matchup issue for defenses, and I love throwing to him.”

That matchup issue — provided by players with good size and contested-catch ability who can move run routes well — seems to be Drinkwitz’s type on the outside. Chism (6’4”) and Dove (6’3”) can threaten teams without the need for much separation, but they’re also capable of obtaining that separation.

We’ll see if Hazelton plays at all against Arkansas, but fans shouldn’t count on it.

Breaking: Nick Bolton good

Fourteen tackles, eight solo, two for loss and several near the line of scrimmage. Yawn.

In all seriousness, Bolton jumped off the screen this week, like he does every week. He is — or at least he should be — a real candidate for Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

Missouri needs Larry Borom and Xavier Delgado back, and soon

Missouri’s next opponent is Arkansas, who has made waves in the SEC by picking up a few unexpected wins with dominant defensive play. These wins were surprising because the Razorbacks went two years without an SEC win before new coach Sam Pittman and new defensive coordinator Barry Odom took the reigns.

That makes Missouri’s offensive no-show in the second half a real concern for next week, and a real indicator that it needs to get healthy on the offensive line.

“I think you could tell offensive line-wise, we’re not where we need to be,” Drinkwitz said. “We gotta create some holes, and they did a good job with our counter scheme tonight.”

South Carolina stifled Larry Rountree III in the run game for most of the night, but the bigger issue was in pass protection. Bazelak faced pressure all second half, which has happened pretty routinely without right tackle Borom and left guard Delgado.

One of the main reasons Missouri’s offense worked well against LSU and Kentucky was the ability to leave Borom on an island against any pass rusher and not expect any pressure from his side. With him gone, the Tigers don’t have that power, and Florida and South Carolina’s pass rushes post much more of a threat.

“I was getting pressure on some throws,” Bazelak said. “I gotta find ways to get the ball to the receivers and convert on third down and second and long.”

Rank the Tigers?

Not yet, but if they win their next two or three games, it could happen.

Missouri received 24 points in USA Today’s Amway Coaches Poll, which would be good for 28th in the country if the rankings extended that far. They did not garner votes in the AP poll, but that could change over the next three weeks.

The Tigers survived their stretch of difficult games in Drinkwitz’s first season, emerging 3-3 and in third place in the SEC East. Their next three games seem far less daunting, with a tough but winnable matchup against Arkansas, a Mississippi State team that has looked terrible since Week One and Vanderbilt.

No explanation needed on that last one.

The offense needs to get better for it to happen, no doubt about that. But a 6-3 record heading into a tentative Dec. 19 date with Georgia is within reach.

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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