SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ for the first month
SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ for the first month

Blum: Four things we learned in Mizzou’s loss to Alabama

Staff Writer
Columbia Daily Tribune
Missouri quarterback Shawn Robinson (3) runs the ball against Alabama during a game Saturday night at Faurot Field.

The beginning of the Eli Drinkwitz era with Missouri football went almost as expected: A victory was out of reach at Faurot Field, but the Tigers showed some promise against the No. 2 team in the nation.

The Crimson Tide doubled up the Tigers 38-19 as Missouri was outclassed most of the game but used late moxie to push back against a national title contender.

Plenty of questions preceded Missouri’s first game in nearly 10 months, especially with the limited access to fall camp because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Saturday was the first chance at answers to the on-field identity of MU moving forward, and while Drinkwitz has nine more games this year to adjust those philosophies, having a foundation to stand on can, despite defeat, help provide clarity as to longer-term goals.

Here are four takeaways from Missouri’s season-opening loss.

1. The defense is a rough skeleton of a forceful unit.

Missouri’s back seven is full of players who can fly around the field and make it hard for most teams to beat you vertically.

Most teams aren’t Alabama, which with maybe the best offensive line in the country gave quarterback Mac Jones more time to consistently throw accurate passes. To make matters harder, when Jaylen Waddle is the one catching those balls, the chances to contain big plays go down.

Yet, with Martez Manuel having 3 1/2 tackles for loss as well as Devin Nicholson, Nick Bolton and Tyree Gillespie combining for 26 tackles, the Tigers don’t have to over-rely on one position group or player (for example, Cale Garrett) to be the playmaker for the defense.

Several guys could be the star on any given night, which is a great sign for the Tigers going forward.

“As a whole on defense, we have to do better on third downs,” Bolton said. “Also, on first downs, they really got tempo. As a collective unit, we have to get in line and get set up so we can be effective.”

Missouri’s defensive line needs work and couldn’t sustain a pass rush until midway through the fourth quarter. If Kobie Whiteside and others can figure it out, the Tigers’ chances of winning more games than expected this season skyrocket.

2. The story of Rocky applies to Missouri’s performance against Alabama.

The role Sylvester Stallone is best known for playing, a gritty Philadelphia boxer goes from unknown to valued commodity in the first film in the boxing-movie empire.

The Tigers were unknown coming into this game, and Alabama was Apollo Creed-like, the world champion with a swagger that they knew they could push Missouri around.

While Rocky vs. Apollo was a close fight in the movie, the Tigers aren’t in the same class as the Crimson Tide.

But MU showed the ability to punch above its weight with actual skill. The 16 second-half points didn’t happen on accident, and the Tigers deserve credit for the little steps they took against a juggernaut.

3. The quarterback battle may not be over, but Robinson has the leg up.

Shawn Robinson played all but two series behind center for Missouri. He was clearly the preferred choice for Drinkwitz despite having Connor Bazelak as another option on the depth chart entering the game.

Robinson made some mistakes in the game, but in your first game in nearly two years, especially against a team the quality of Alabama, some errors are going to happen.

A Bazelak rushing touchdown at the buzzer doesn’t change things. With a patchwork of an offensive line, Robinson’s ability with his feet combined with his arm strength makes him the current ideal choice to run the offense.

“I’ve got to do better,” Robinson said. “Decision-making, just eliminate bonehead plays and be smart with the ball and don’t beat ourselves.”

In his first start at MU, Robinson recorded a completion percentage of 76%, the most by a Tigers’ quarterback in a debut since Blaine Gabbert completed 75.8% against Illinois in September 2009.

4. Larry Rountree has a big 2020 in store.

One of Drinkwitz’s biggest confessions in his postgame press conference is he needs to get his senior running back more involved.

Yes, Rountree didn’t make a huge impact in the first half, but once he found his rhythm in the second half, he picked up bunches of yards that kept the Crimson Tide honest. In turn, Rountree’s efforts opened up the entire offense.

Rountree finished the game with 14 carries for 67 yards and passed Henry Josey for fifth all-time in rushing yards at Missouri.

If the senior from Raleigh, North Carolina, gets involved in the offense sooner, it could be a great sign for 2020.

“He's a fighter,” Drinkwitz said of Rountree. “He runs tough. He runs physical. It means the world to him and I got to do a better job feeding him.”

eblum@columbiatribune.com