After a first half of the season that featured the worst run defense in the country, a fired position coach and zero conference wins, Saturday’s game against No. 21 Texas A&M served as a reminder that things could always get worse for Missouri.
Or, with a more optimistic outlook, stay as bad as they were before.
The Aggies followed the playbook that has become standard for any Missouri opponent in their 35-14 win: Run the ball down the Tigers’ collective throat. Devon Achane carried the ball 16 times for 124 yards. Isaiah Spiller racked up 168 yards.
“It’s just all around,” Missouri safety Jaylon Carlies said. “You can’t point fingers at anybody. It’s just all-around team effort.
“Everybody missed an assignment today. It doesn’t just go down to one line, one person, it doesn’t matter. Everybody has to do their part at the end of the day.”
Starting with good field position after a Connor Bazelak interception on Missouri’s first possession, it took A&M (5-2, 2-2 SEC) four plays to score its first touchdown, a two-yard pass from Zach Calzada to Ainias Smith. Four game minutes later, it was 14-0 before Missouri (3-4, 0-3) had a first down.
The chunk plays piled up. Achane had three rushes of at least 19 yards in a five-play stretch late in the first quarter, the final a 20-yard touchdown scamper. The Aggies had 13 runs of at least 10 yards. Missouri had four.
After a disastrous start that included two Bazelak interceptions on his first 10 attempts, Missouri’s offense slowly worked its way back to respectability. Running back Tyler Badie broke off a 32-yard touchdown run to get the Tigers on the board in the second quarter, and an 11-play, 97-yard drive that ended with Dominic Lovett scoring his first career touchdown made the score 28-14 early in the third.
Within two scores, Missouri had a chance to claw back into the game in the third. Martez Manuel forced TAMU into a second and 27 after a sack at the Aggie 35. A holding penalty on Mekhi Wingo moved the ball up 10 yards. Two plays later, Calzada found Smith over the middle for 21 yards and a backbreaking conversion.
“I put that on myself,” Carlies said. “That was a major stop that we could have had. I felt like that could have brought a lot of momentum heading into the offense’s next drive.”
Achane capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run that effectively sealed the game.
After putting up 279 yards in the first half, the A&M took its foot slightly off the gas in the second and scored only seven points. It didn’t matter. Even playing conservative, ball-control offense and soft coverage on defense, the Aggies still came close to Missouri’s output with 152 yards.
The Tigers had 186 as A&M focused on keeping everything in front and limiting Missouri’s big plays.
“They (TAMU’s secondary) were sitting a lot,” said receiver Tauskie Dove, who had five catches for 65 yards. “Their secondary ... I give them props.”
The Tiger offense fell mostly quiet after Lovett’s touchdown, managing 61 yards and no points in the fourth quarter. Bazelak finished 29 of 43 for 230 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Badie had 121 total yards.
Missouri now stumbles into its bye week having lost its past two conference games by a combined 59 points. It faces a slate of three more ranked opponents in its last five games. It still needs to win at least one to qualify for a bowl. Saturday served as an inauspicious start to that gauntlet.
“This is part of the building process at Mizzou,” coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. “I realize that maybe last year we probably overachieved, and so everybody assumed that those expectations (apply to) this year. It hadn’t gone that way. It just hadn’t. But that’s part of the process, and I’ve said this before: I wish success was always linear. It’s not. There’s fight, there’s wrestling, there’s good days and bad days.”