Waddle and the Tide roll over Tigers, beat Missouri 38-19

Mac Jones, Najee Harris combine for 401 total yards in Drinkwitz’s first game.
Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle makes a catch over safety Joshua Bledsoe at Faurot Field on Sept. 26, 2020 SEC Media Portal

Missouri held its own against the No. 2 team in the country for two defensive drives, until Jaylen Waddle decided that he had enough.

The redshirt sophomore receiver leaped into the air to make a 46-yard catch over the middle in between two defenders, surviving a hit and the ground to put Alabama in scoring position. Three plays later, he finished the drive with an 18-yard touchdown to put the Crimson Tide up 14-0. The rout was on, and the Tigers dropped coach Eli Drinkwitz’s first game 38-19.

“Bottom line, we didn’t play well on either side of the ball to win tonight,” Drinkwitz said. “We gotta get off the field on third down, they were nine of 14 [on third downs]. Just not good enough.”

The Tigers’ secondary was no match for Waddle and quarterback Mac Jones, especially after losing starting cornerback Jarvis Ware to injury early in the game. Waddle would add a 23-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, hauling in a beautiful ball for an over-the-shoulder catch in the back of the end zone with two defenders draped all over him.

Waddle would finish with 121 of Jones’ 249 passing yards and two touchdowns — and could have had three, but a second quarter catch-and-run was overturned by replay review.

“We couldn’t [stop him],” Drinkwitz said. “We tried to double him, we tried to mix in zone, we tried heating up the quarterback, but it wasn’t as effective as we wanted it to be.”

The Alabama ground game did its part as well, with Najee Harris and a dominant offensive line accounting for much of a 12-play drive that gave the Tide the lead for good early in the first quarter.

“Coach Drinkwitz did a hell of a job getting us prepared for this week, but we just gotta execute better down the stretch, especially on third downs,” linebacker Nick Bolton said.

Missouri’s new offense, led by quarterback Shawn Robinson, couldn’t move the ball down the field, let alone keep up with Alabama’s scoring. The Tigers entered the second half trailing 28-3, and fumbled away their first possession of the third quarter. Robinson’s pitch to receiver Jalen Knox fell to the turf, where it was recovered by Alabama.

“I gotta do better,” Robinson said. “Better decision making, just gotta eliminate the negative plays and be smart with the ball, so we don’t beat ourselves.”

Robinson faced a fierce Alabama pass rush, at one point knocking his helmet right off of his head on a third down deep within Alabama territory.

“That was purely on me,” Robinson said. “I should have thrown the ball away.”

The Tigers could have given up after the fumble, but to their credit, they did not. Robinson found running back Tyler Badie wide open on a wheel route after the defense lost sight of him on play action for a 56-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Connor Bazelak scrambled for a buzzer-beating score to make the game seem much closer than it actually was.

“I’m proud of the fight that our team displayed at the end,” Drinkwitz said. “We all stuck together, got a little momentum with the next drive, and obviously scored on the next drive after the turnover. I saw some fighting there at the end, and that was important.”

While the game was still in question, the Tide’s defense suffocated Drinkwitz’s new offense, only allowing the Tigers to reach the red zone once in the first half.

Linebacker Dylan Moses played for the first time since a season-ending injury in last year’s fall camp. He was stellar, knocking Robinson to the ground multiple times and stopping running back Larry Rountree III on a key fourth down early in the game.

“We knew coming in that what we’re gonna do is the same thing as we did in practice, which was go fast,” Rountree said. “But obviously it wasn’t enough.”

“He’s a fighter,” Drinkwitz said of Rountree. “He runs tough, he runs physical and we’ve gotta do a better job of feeding him.”

The Tigers’ true freshmen provided a bright spot in the loss. Ennis Rakestraw started at corner as expected, and he showed why right away, breaking up a pass to projected first round pick DeVonta Smith on the game’s first play.

Freshman kicker Harrison Mevis accounted for all of Missouri’s points, going two for two on field goals. Kris Abrams-Draine saw meaningful reps on offense, at one point motioning outside and finding himself completely uncovered. Robinson saw immediate pressure and couldn’t find Abrams-Draine, who would have scored his first Missouri touchdown if he did.

Sophomore Martez Manuel made his second career start in Missouri’s three-safety defense and stood out to Drinkwitz as well.

“I thought Martez Manuel made some really good key tackles and clutch plays tonight,” Drinkwitz said. “He was all over the field.”

The 0-1 Tigers will head to Knoxville, Tenn. next week, where they’ll face the Volunteers. Tennessee came into this week ranked No. 16 and began their season with a win over South Carolina.

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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