Five takeaways: Promising freshmen provide glimpses of a bright future in wild win over Arkansas

On senior night, Missouri both celebrated its established players and showcased its bright future.

Down by one point with 46 seconds left, redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak and the Missouri offense took the field.

Bazelak led his team on a seven-play, 65-yard drive to put the Tigers in field goal range. He showed plenty of poise as he drove the offense down the field, aided by a few timely catches and three timeouts.

With three seconds left, it was time for Harrison “The Thicker Kicker” Mevis. And he delivered Missouri a 50-48 win against Arkansas.

Missouri has its long-term kicker

When Mevis lined up to kick a game-winning field goal, he didn’t feel fazed in the slightest.

The 18-year-old-freshman made his previous four field goals from 51, 29, 37 and 40 yards respectively. Despite the added pressure, he knew he wasn’t about to miss his fifth.

“It was a game-winner, but really there’s nothing else to think about,” Mevis said. “It’s just another kick for me.”

With 16 made field goals this season, his teammates knew that all they had to do was get into field goal range.

“We practice field goals every Tuesday and Wednesday, and he goes out to the 50, 52 [yardline],” Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “So, I knew once we got inside the 30 [yardline] we were in his range.”

Arkansas’ multiple attempts to freeze the kicker proved to be futile as Mevis’ 32-yard game-winning field goal sailed through the uprights.

While not the flashiest position, games are often won or lost on special teams. The margin between making a bowl game and missing out on the postseason entirely is razor-thin, and it often comes down to winning games like the Tigers did Saturday.

With that in mind, Drinkwitz and his team can rest easy knowing that they have a viable option in the kicking game that will be around for the foreseeable future.

Defense shows that there is work to be done

Saturday's game was supposed to be a showcase of two stingy defenses. Instead, the two teams played an offensive shootout.

Over the past two games, Missouri allowed just 468 combined yards of total offense. They allowed 566 all-purpose yards to the Razorbacks.

The Tigers struggled to deal with an Arkansas offense that played at a breakneck speed whenever possible. Oftentimes, Missouri struggled to get set and the Razorbacks took advantage by putting up their highest-scoring game of the season.

“When teams are going fast, all you can do is keep your composure,” safety Joshuah Bledsoe said. “[We need to] line up fast, hurry up and get the call.”

Both teams combined for 1,219 yards of total offense. On the Arkansas side, that came, in large part, from receiver Treylon Burks and running back Trelon Smith. The speedy duo combined for 378 total yards and four touchdowns, routinely torching the Tigers' discombobulated defense.

To make matters worse, Missouri lost one of its defensive leaders in linebacker Nick Bolton due to a targeting call midway through the second quarter. The ejection provided a big blow to a struggling defense, but when they needed to come up with a few stops in the second half, they did.

It wasn’t a glowing performance for defensive coordinator Ryan Walters’ unit by any means. But it’s a performance that the defense can learn from and build from. And they will need to be at their best next Saturday if they want to upset Georgia at Faurot Field.

Connor Bazelak: A magician between the 20’s

One could make the argument that Bazelak played his best football of the season over the past week.

During a two-game stretch against Vanderbilt and Arkansas, the redshirt freshman has thrown for 698 yards and a grand total of zero touchdowns

That’s right. Missouri’s starting quarterback averaged a quarterback rating of 141.85 over the past week, despite not throwing a touchdown pass since he hit receiver Tauskie Dove for six points in South Carolina.

Nonetheless, Bazelak passed the eye test in every way imaginable.

He makes the throws and reads expected out of a starting quarterback in the SEC. There were multiple times where Bazelak stepped up in the pocket against Arkansas to avoid pressure or a potential sack. When that happened, he didn’t immediately attempt to scramble. Instead, Bazelak kept his eyes downfield where he often found an open receiver to move the chains.

Bazelak is also comfortable moving from his first read to the second when the designed option isn’t available. An example of that came in the first half when Missouri ran a fleaflicker. Instead of going deep to Dove, who was covered, he went to receiver Keke Chism for an easy 29-yard gain.

Drinkwitz isn’t asking Bazelak to throw for touchdowns every week. He just wants his quarterback to manage games and give the Tigers a chance to go out and win each one. On Saturday, Bazelak did exactly that and now he has a game-winning drive to his name.

“You’re always as a quarterback going to be measured on your game-ending drives,” Drinkwitz said. “That’s the measure of a winning quarterback, and for him to get that one today was pretty awesome.”

Larry Rountree III is Missouri’s engine

Missouri senior running back Larry Rountree III left Faurot Field on his teammate’s shoulders.

With 185 yards and three touchdowns against the Razorbacks, Rountree III played a pivotal role in another Missouri win. And, in many ways, he deserves all the praise he has received.

The senior is having another standout season in Columbia, totaling 835 total yards and 11 touchdowns with two games remaining.

“Larry’s done great the past couple of games,” Bazelak said. “When he runs well and the offensive line blocks well, it opens up the pass game, which opens back up the run game. Then we’re clicking on all cylinders.”

For the second week in a row, he finished with three touchdowns and over 150 yards. He’s found the end zone in five-consecutive games and scored in all but two of the game he’s played in.

Rountree III had runs of 46 and 34 yards against the Razorbacks and the repeated chants of “La-rry” that echoed around Faurot Field showed just how much he meant to this team and the fans in Columbia.

So while he couldn’t walk away from the hill in the north end zone, he did get his rock.

Missouri’s veteran receivers step up

Missouri’s pair of graduate transfer wide receivers both stepped up in a big way on Saturday.

Chism, a graduate transfer from Angelo State, finished his afternoon against the Razorbacks with 113 yards on six catches. Virginia Tech transfer Damon Hazelton, Jr. nearly tallied a 100-yard day of his own but fell just short with 98 yards on five catches.

Both receivers made big plays to keep Missouri drives alive. Chism had a great over-the-shoulder catch along the right sideline to put the Tigers in the red zone and set up one of three fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Hazelton came up with a few important catches throughout the second half to help Missouri complete its improbable comeback.

Just a season ago, running back Tyler Badie led Missouri in receiving and 100-yard games came few and far between. That lack of reliable production from their receiving corps led to the additions of Chism and Hazelton Jr. last spring, and now they are stepping up when Missouri needs them the most.

“This is why you come to the SEC: you want to play in big games,” Chism said. “For us, it’s always staying locked in and capitalizing on the opportunities. We were brought here to make plays, and I think today we did a great job of it.”

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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