Mizzou’s loss to Georgia was infuriating for the Tiger fanbase, but at least it inspired emotion.
The Missouri Tigers suffered a crushing 28-27 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday night, failing to hold on in a game that they held the lead in for 48:12. It was particularly frustrating for those who saw the way the Tigers were playing and figured that they might be on an accelerated schedule in their bid to regain relevance after fighting through over a year of absolute turmoil. But while the Tigers didn’t come through with the win, it’s important to appreciate how many encouraging signs came away from Saturday’s brutal loss.
For starters, quarterback Drew Lock looked great on Saturday night. He completed 23 of 38 passes for 376 yards, executing some really impressive throws while throwing for three touchdowns. While he wasn’t as consistent as he’d been the past two weeks, Lock looked more like a dominant SEC quarterback than he ever has before while tearing up a Georgia defense that has developed a reputation for sending players to the NFL on a yearly basis.
For most of the game, wideout J’Mon Moore was absolutely spectacular, catching eight balls for 196 yards and two touchdowns. That’s the ninth-most receiving yards for a Mizzou player in a single game during the program’s 115 season history. Unfortunately, Moore failed when it mattered most, fumbling with just over a minute left in the fourth quarter after catching a Lock pass that would have positioned the Tigers at their own 48 yardline, perfectly capable of getting into field goal position and coming away with the win.
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It was another rookie mistake–which you can still reasonably call it, since he’s just 49 receptions into his collegiate career. Via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Dave Matter, Moore said that he “lost focus” on the play, which he simply can’t do anymore if he’s going to be an effective SEC player. Ideally, Moore would be over those issues by his fourth season on campus, but for some players, those are the kinds of things that can only be drilled in during high-pressure games like the Tigers were playing in Saturday night, and hopefully he’ll come out of it a better player.
In a development that’s a major testament to the coaching ability of Glen Ellarbee–who’s getting his first shot as a line coach at a power conference school after stints at West Georgia, Middle Tennessee, Houston, and Arkansas State–the Tigers have allowed just one sack through three games. That’s a major accomplishment for a team that had just three collective FBS starts (all from Alec Abeln) coming into 2016. The line allowed just one tackle for loss on Saturday night, which was extra impressive considering that Samson Bailey went down twice, forcing Abeln to move from right guard to center while walk-on (and St. Louis native) Adam Ploudre filled in at the vacant guard spot.
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And after recording just one sack (from nose tackle Josh Augusta) in their first two games–an extremely concerning predicament considering that the defensive line was one of the Tigers’ few good units in 2015, collecting 27 sacks over 12 games–the D-line was dominant on Saturday. Charles Harris had nearly half of his entire 2015 sack total (seven), bringing down Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason three times. He had a total of four tackles for loss which cost the Bulldogs 23 yards. Defensive tackle Rickey Hatley also had his third career sack, bringing down Eason for a loss of 10 yards. Mizzou needs the pass rush to be effective if they’re going to win, and it seemed that with a bit of scheme compromise from new defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross and an increase in performance from the personnel, “D-line ‘Zou” was at least briefly back to its old ways on Saturday.
In a season where even the most optimistic of Mizzou experts have said that the team is just fighting to get to 6-6 and achieve bowl eligibility, the Tigers would have been a third of the way there just three games into the season if they had pulled off the win against Georgia. After last season, it feels foolish to really expect Mizzou to win any game, but with contests against Delaware State and Middle Tennessee remaining, the Tigers could have realistically gotten away with winning just two more conference games–which is very doable with SEC bottom feeders Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina on the schedule–and still become bowl eligible.
While that type of performance won’t be acceptable long-term, that’d be a solid start to Barry Odom‘s head-coaching career, and remarkable progress for a program that has unexpectedly lost its athletic director, head coach, starting quarterback, most experienced offensive lineman, and two projected starting defensive linemen over the past 10 months. Realistically, the Tigers are probably still a ways away from returning to the level of competitiveness that earned them two straight SEC championship game berths, but if they can play the same way that they did Saturday and simply eliminate the “rookie mistakes” that led to them coughing it up in the fourth quarter, they’ll be good again sooner than expected.
For now, though, they’ll have to continue fighting for their bowl season lives, and that’s frustrating considering how close they were to taking down the Bulldogs on Saturday.