Missouri offense flashes dynamic potential under Bazelak

Now the starting quarterback, Connor Bazelak’s arm and ability in the pocket could take Missouri’s offense to the next level.
Connor Bazelak reaches back to pass during Missouri's loss to Tennessee on Oct. 3, 2020. SEC Media Portal

Through two drives, the Missouri Tigers’ offense appeared toothless.

Six plays for 17 yards. Three plays for negative-four yards. Two punts. By the time starting quarterback Shawn Robinson made way for redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak, the Tigers trailed the Tennessee Volunteers by a touchdown and needed any offensive spark that they could get.

Bazelak strung together a promising opening series. In 11 plays, he drove the offense 65 yards down the field for a field goal. On one play, the young quarterback ignored an open Barrett Banister underneath and threaded the needle to find receiver Damon Hazelton Jr. along the right sideline for a 21-yard pickup. While it couldn’t turn the drive into seven points, the offense caused issues for the Tennessee defense and looked the most potent it's been this season.

“[Bazelak] made good decisions,” head coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. “I think as a quarterback that’s your choice, to be a smart, disciplined decision-maker. He’s made those decisions, it’s worked out for him. Sometimes it hasn’t worked out for him…. And I think he is doing a good job of being accurate with the football.”

After two games, the most noticeable difference between quarterbacks is that Bazelak is not afraid to air the ball out. Being able to move the ball downfield opens the game up for multiple facets of Missouri’s offense and allows the unit to be multi-dimensional. According to Secstatcat.com, Bazelak’s average depth of target is 11.84 yards while Robinson’s is 3.66. When they drop back, Robinson is averaging just 9.25 yards per completion compared to Bazelak’s 14.30.

Those numbers make sense when you watch the two quarterbacks play. Robinson wants to escape the pocket and make plays with his legs while Bazelak needs time to stand in the pocket and deliver a pass. Drinkwitz schemed up a few quarterback runs for Robinson against Tennessee, but they went for little to no gain. When defenses neutralize Robinson on the ground, it forces the Missouri offense to be one-dimensional because defenses can key in on stopping the run and shut down the entire unit. Bazelak may not be as fleet of foot, but he often tested the Volunteer’s defensive backs and kept them honest.

During Tuesday’s press conference, Drinkwitz brought up the pass to Hazelton on the corner route as a play that impressed him. He also mentioned a throw to running back Tyler Badie along the sideline as a read and play that stood out on film. Those throws down the field open up room in the backfield for both Badie and Larry Rountree III because opponents cannot stack the box with defenders. It’s a small detail, but playing against fewer stacked boxes opens up even more options for Drinkwitz’ pro-tempo offense, including what could be a more potent play-action threat.

“It’s good because we don’t have to just run the ball, we can actually throw the ball, too,” Rountree said. “That’s showing that we’re versatile.”

Against the Volunteers, Missouri finished with 13 all-purpose yards in the first quarter, but then generated 131 total yards of offense in the second quarter alone. Bazelak showed enough flashes to prove he has what it takes to get the offense clicking, but it was still far from a perfect outing.

“We were still under 60% completion,” Drinkwitz said. “We didn’t throw a touchdown, so there’s a lot of work to be done. I’m not sure that’s going to open anything up until we throw some touchdowns. Until we’re more consistent scoring points, that’s when the offense will really open up.”

There was a play in which a receiver forgot to hold his defender in the flat, resulting in an incompletion. On a few occasions, Bazelak missed his man by a few yards, or when a receiver was open the ball was dropped. When the field became shorter, the necessary execution just wasn’t there.

“[Bazelak] missed a couple of reads that really have to be made,” Drinkwitz said.

The head coach told reporters after the game that nobody, including himself, did enough to win that game in Knoxville, Tenn, last weekend. However, Bazelak did show enough to prove that he is capable of calling the shots for an SEC offense.

For the first time this season, Missouri’s depth chart doesn’t have an “OR” between the two quarterbacks. Bazelak’s name is listed at the top, and with his arm talent and ability to stretch the defense through the air, the offense should begin to look more dynamic going forward.

“[Throwing the ball downfield] opens up everything else,” Bazelak said. “It opens up the run game, it opens up screens and short passes. Being able to throw the ball downfield is a big part of being able to move the ball and having a successful offense.”

Edited by Maia Bond | mbond@themaneater.com

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