Five takeaways from Missouri’s 38-19 loss to Alabama

There is plenty to address after the Tigers opened their 2020 season in defeat against the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide.
Missouri DE Trajan Jeffcoat chases down Alabama quarterback Bryce Young in Missouri's loss to Alabama at Faurot Field on Sept. 26, 2020. Mizzou Athletics

Missouri kicked off its 2020 season on Saturday night against No. 2-ranked Alabama in a game that was never as close as the final score indicated.

The Tigers fell behind the Crimson Tide 35-3 before scoring twice late to make the scoreline respectable, but the Missouri defense had no answers for Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, who finished the night with 134 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-19 win.

Quarterback questions answered... for now

After head coach Eliah Drinkwitz spent most of the offseason refusing to name a starter at quarterback, we finally got our answer to who would start under center when redshirt junior Shawn Robinson took the field with the starters for Missouri’s opening drive.

Robinson, who hadn’t taken a snap since transferring from Texas Christian University, finished the game with 185 yards and a touchdown, good for a 151.4 quarterback rating.

“I thought Shawn gave us the best chance to move the ball with his legs and some of the read games we were going to try,” Drinkwitz said. “He played in some games before, so he had that experience against some of these guys.”

Although Robinson got the start, redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak also received playing time against the Crimson Tide. Coming off a torn ACL from last season’s game against Arkansas, Bazelak went 7 for 14 through the air and scored a rushing touchdown on the final play of the game Saturday night.

After the game, Drinkwitz told reporters that he was encouraged by both quarterbacks’ performances, but that they still had plenty to clean up, including getting rid of the ball and not taking negative plays. Alabama sacked Missouri’s QB duo a combined three times on Saturday night.

“The sacks were very disappointing,” Drinkwitz said. “That’s the thing we’ve been preaching all fall camp. We got to stay away from negative plays, and both quarterbacks did some really good things, but they got to eliminate the negative plays in order for us to be successful offensively.”

Robinson vowed that he will be better going forward. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to prove himself this season, and if he doesn’t, Bazelak is right there ready to step in.

Rakestraw begins Missouri career with solid outing

When Missouri’s depth chart came out last week, it listed true freshman Ennis Rakestraw Jr. as a starter at cornerback.

Given the unenviable task of defending Alabama’s star-studded duo of DeVonta Smith and Waddle, Rakestraw mostly held his own. The Alabama offense knew that he was the inexperienced player in the secondary, and quarterback Mac Jones continuously attempted to test him. But on the first play of the game, Rakestraw broke up a pass to Waddle. Later in the opening quarter, he made an open field tackle on John Metchie III to prevent what could have been a touchdown.

“I think Ennis got a chance to compete a lot,” Drinkwitz said. “He ended up playing a little bit more than we probably wanted him to just because of injuries, to be honest.”

Throughout the night, the Duncanville, Texas, product did well to complete tackles and stay disciplined in coverage. He wasn’t perfect or the best defender on the field for the Tigers, but he did his job and didn’t stand out. That’s all you can really ask from a true freshman.

Tigers defense struggled to get off the field

There were multiple moments on Saturday night where the Tigers forced the Crimson Tide into a third-and-long situation only to give up a chunk play and allow Alabama to move the chains.

The visitors completed nearly two-thirds of their third-down chances, and they made those long plays look like third-and-manageable. Oftentimes, Jones would sit back and buy time before finding a receiver open down the field.

The Crimson Tide faced 14 third downs, but they made almost each of them feel convertible by staying in front of the chains. Throughout most of the night, Alabama wanted to play up-tempo and get the ball into its playmakers’ hands. With speedy weapons such as the aforementioned Waddle or even running back Najee Harris coming out of the backfield, Jones had plenty of options, and he often capitalized on them.

“We were 9 for 14 on third downs. I mean, that’s not good enough,” Drinkwitz said. “We talked about that was going to be the key to winning the game, how we did on third down. We started fast with a three-and-out, and then after that, we just didn’t do good enough.”

A lack of pressure in the backfield allowed Jones to be comfortable in the pocket

When Jones wasn’t getting the ball out of his hands quickly, he often dropped back with a clean pocket and plenty of time to work with. There were multiple plays where Jones could pick out a pass and allow his receivers to run long, developing routes that often turned into chunk plays.

Jones completed 18 of his 24 pass attempts for 249 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He may not be as mobile as his predecessor, Tua Tagovailoa, but he proved time and time again that he has an arm capable of making most throws, even into tight windows.

No matter how hard they tried, Missouri just couldn’t do anything to generate enough pressure to threaten Alabama’s QB. However, Trajan Jeffcoat proved to be a bright spot along the defensive line. The junior –– who returned to MU after being dismissed from the team not even a year ago –– registered one of the Tigers’ two sacks on the night.

“All we can do is just play hard,” senior safety Joshuah Bledsoe said after the game. “We can’t control what goes on, so we just do our jobs and play as hard as we can.”

It was just game one, and who knows how the pass rush will pan out as the season progresses, but if the Tigers want to remain competitive in the SEC this season, the defensive line will have to start generating more pressure in the backfield.

Behind Bama, the SEC is wide open

Outside of Columbia, it was an eventful opening weekend in the SEC.

The day started with Florida and Ole Miss putting up a combined 86 points in Oxford and ended with Tennessee edging out South Carolina by four points at Williams-Brice Stadium.

But in what may have been the most unpredictable result of the day, Mississippi State took down LSU in Death Valley behind transfer quarterback K.J. Costello’s 623 yards passing and five touchdowns.

Missouri plays both Tennessee and LSU in its next two games and will travel to Starkville later in the season for a cross-division game against the Bulldogs.

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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