Five Takeaways: Missouri shows strength in numbers in program-defining win over LSU

Missouri wins its first game against a ranked opponent since 2018 behind an all-around performance at Faurot Field.
WR Chance Super gets a block from D'ionte "Boo" Smith on a 69-yard catch-and-run during Missouri's win over LSU. SEC Media Portal

It’s been a while since the Missouri Tigers last upset a ranked opponent.

After beating the No. 11-ranked Florida Gators 38-17 on the road in 2018, the Tigers went two seasons before picking up another victory over an AP top-25 team, this time against the No. 17-ranked LSU Tigers.

With the reigning national champions in town, the Tigers took the fight to their adversaries from Baton Rouge, La. Quarterback Connor Bazelak threw for 406 yards and four touchdowns, while running back Larry Rountree III carried the ball for 119 yards and caught a touchdown of his own as Missouri took down LSU 45-41 at Faurot Field.

“We just got to get back to work,” Bazelak said. “Focus on Vandy [Vanderbilt] and have good habits throughout the week. We can’t get too high.”

Receiving unit steps up amid absences

During his radio show on Thursday night, Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz announced that seven players would be out against LSU due to one player testing positive for COVID-19. He didn’t name the seven players at the time, but said that fans “would know soon enough” who would be absent come Saturday morning.

Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports first reported that Damon Hazelton Jr., Keke Chism and Dominic Gicinto –– three of the Tigers’ top receiving targets –– were a part of the seven players. A Missouri athletics spokesperson confirmed those reports before the game kicked off.

Despite the absences, it never felt as if Missouri was missing its most versatile receiving threats. Bazelak continued to make throw after throw as receivers found themselves running wide open. Micah Wilson caught a 41-yard touchdown. Chance Luper’s 69-yard reception late in the fourth quarter was his first of the season and set the Tigers up for the go-ahead score, which tight end Niko Hea hauled in.

But perhaps no player capitalized on his opportunity more than Tauskie Dove, who led the team with 83 receiving yards and Missouri’s opening touchdown.

“It was earlier this week and I knew I had to step up to the plate,” Dove said. “Everyone in the receiver room competes and I knew that whoever started today, we were ready to go.”

Of course, Missouri would love to have all of its pieces —especially at an already shaky receiver position — but against LSU, players stepped up to seamlessly fill the roles of missing starters.

“It was a collective effort,” Drinkwitz said. “Next person up mentality. It’s not about the talent, it’s about how you function as a unit and our unit decided to function at a high level today.”

Defense holds when it matters most

For as well as the Missouri offense played on Saturday, the game ultimately came down to the defense making four consecutive stops from the one-yard line.

Drinkwitz elected to live or die with his defense, declining to use his timeouts to stop the clock. Regardless of what happened, the Missouri offense would not be getting the ball back with much, if any, time remaining.

The Missouri defense started the sequence by stopping the run two consecutive times, including a gang-tackle when it seemed as if LSU running back Tyrion Davis-Price had all the necessary momentum to break the plane. On third down, Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton read LSU quarterback Myles Brennan’s eyes and swatted the pass away. On the game’s final play, each player did their job in coverage as safety Joshuah Bledsoe broke up a pass in the right corner of the end zone. Ball game.

“When they got the ball there I just felt like we had to come together as a unit and really want it more than they did,” defensive lineman Tre Williams said. “It was just us coming together and finding that grit.”

It didn’t matter that Missouri allowed 479 yards up to the final seconds. The busted coverages and occasional lapses in the secondary were in the past. When called upon to come up with a program-defining goal-line stand, the defense came through.

“It was our will versus theirs and we wanted it more,” Drinkwitz said. “Bottom line.”

Tigers show better red zone execution against LSU

If the goal of football is to move the ball between the 20-yard lines, Missouri would excel. Against Alabama, the Tigers used a lot of short passes to slowly make their way up the field, but often stalled in the red zone. Against Tennessee, Bazelak looked like he opened up the offense as he slung the ball all over the field, yet he still didn't throw for a touchdown.

“When you get in the red zone, you have to score,” Rountree said. “That’s what we weren’t doing these last two games.”

Missouri seemed to find some of that much-needed execution against LSU. The offense never seemed to sputter and the Tigers converted five of its 10 third downs compared to LSU, which went 0-10.

The Tigers looked much better at executing its offense on Saturday and will need to build off that performance against LSU heading into next weekend’s Homecoming game against Vanderbilt.

Ball security an issue against LSU

One could make the argument that this game was not as close as the final score indicated.

Missouri fumbled the ball five times against LSU, three of which were recovered by the LSU defense. Two fumbles came on special teams as Missouri struggled to even field a punt. The turnovers set up a short field for Brennan which their offense capitalized on, first with a 25-yard touchdown up the seam to LSU tight end Arik Gilbert and then with a Davis-Price rushing touchdown from a yard out.

LSU scored 17 points directly off of turnovers and Drinkwitz was frustrated with the team’s carelessness with the ball when talking with KTGR’s Chris Gervino right before heading into the locker room at halftime.

“I don’t care about that crap, we just gotta take care of the football,” Drinkwitz said.

The Tigers hardly played a perfect game on Sunday, but they did just enough to win. Who knows how much more comfortable the victory would have been had they stopped giving LSU a short field to work with.

Tigers show fight in face of adversity

Saturday’s game was never going to be easy for Missouri. Assigned as one of the team’s two additional SEC West crossover games, many didn’t entertain the possibility of an upset. LSU may not be the same team that won the national championship back in January, but it still has plenty of NFL-caliber talent littered throughout the roster. Meanwhile, Missouri played without three of its top receivers and most of its scholarship players on the defensive line.

But this is a Missouri team that has proven through two games that it will not just roll over, no matter who the opponent is. Wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. finished with 235 yards and three touchdowns. Gilbert caught four pases for 59 yards on LSU’s first offensive series. Brennan –– who finished with 430 yards and four touchdowns –– looked to be doing his best Joe Burrow impression early on.

“We just had to calm down,” defensive back Jarvis Ware said. “People weren't getting set up. We control the game. We kind of let LSU control the game so we had to control the game on the side of defense and for us to get set up.”

In a back-and-forth game, Bazelak and the Missouri offense constantly put together touchdown drives to keep pace with LSU. After falling behind, they often answered right back, whether it be through a creative play call or a good read to extend a drive. The defense began to string together stops as the game wore on, all culminating in the goal-line stand.

“They could’ve flinched after another turnover; they didn’t,” Drinkwitz said. “They could've flinched after we went three and out, but they didn’t –– we just blocked a field goal. They could’ve flinched when the ball got put on the one yard line, they didn’t. They just kept playing this play as hard as they could. To have that mentality this day and age, that’s what real winners do.”

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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