Conspiracy theories are flying around about what happened to this Missouri football sitting with a 5-1 record before this three game road trip. Since a Homecoming win against Ole Miss, the Tigers have been outscored 77-21 in three straight losses, following their 27-0 loss at Georgia on Saturday night. The offense was without quarterback Kelly Bryant and wide receiver Jonathan Johnson. Taylor Powell, making his first collegiate start, completed 10 of 22 passes for 84 yards with an interception. Larry Rountree III led Missouri with only 24 yards rushing on nine carries. True freshman Connor Bazelak completed 8 of 12 passes for 64 yards on the Tigers second to last possession of the game, but failed to punch the Tigers in the end zone from inside the 10 on first and goal.
The conspiracy theory floating around on social is that there has to be something deeper than just getting outplayed as the reason the production has dropped off considerably in the last three weeks. I’m not about to go that far. What I am confident in saying is that perhaps this Mizzou team just isn’t as good as we thought? Plus add in injuries to the two top players, and the margin of error for success is narrowed. Let’s consider a few things.
1: Mizzou’s run defense has suffered since the Ole Miss game. That coincides with the season ending injury to their leader and top tackler Cale Garrett. Despite missing the last three games, Garrett is still second on the team in tackles, tied for first in tackles for loss, second on the team in sacks, third in passes defended and still leads the unit in interceptions. The Tigers were victimized by quarterbacks at Vandy and Kentucky who could run the football. Look back to week one when Wyoming topped the Tigers and that too was with a quarterback who could run the ball. Mizzou is one of the best in the SEC in pass coverage, but has consistently struggled against running quarterbacks. Georgia man-vs-man was just more talented that the Tigers.
2: How healthy has Bryant really been? After suffering a knee injury against Troy St, he was effective throwing the football against Ole Miss, but only gained 14 yards on ten carries and netted 72 yards against Vandy after being sacked three times. He was then sacked four times against Kentucky. That’s seven in two losses. In the first six games, he was sacked a total of ten times and he had never been sacked more than twice in any other game. His mobility or lack thereof may have played a part in the struggles or Missouri’s offense and may have exposed a leaky offensive line.
3: In compiling a 5-1 record, Mizzou really didn’t play anyone tough. Their wins came against a West Virginia team that had a young offense and a new coach, SEMO, a South Carolina team playing a true freshman at quarterback, Troy (a team with a new coach after their former coach Neal Brown left for West Virginia) and Ole Miss, a team picked for 6th in the SEC West. They lost a winnable game at Vandy, but then lost to Kentucky who has had the Tigers numbers and now Georgia.
No conspiracy theories. The Tigers best player on defense was lost and their best player on offense has been less than 100% for three weeks and now missed the most important game of the season this Saturday night. There’s the issue. With not as much depth as the powerhouse SEC teams, when the first string depth chart takes a hit, it becomes an issue for Missouri.