COLUMBIA, Mo. – Connor Bazelak didn’t plan to watch the entire second half from the sideline Saturday, but the Missouri quarterback didn’t mind a half-day’s work.
By halftime at Memorial Stadium, the only suspense was how long Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz would keep his two offensive stalwarts in the game against overmatched Southeast Missouri. By then, Bazelak and running back Tyler Badie had taken turns dismantling SEMO on the way to a comfortable 59-28 victory. Badie’s third touchdown of the first half staked the Tigers to a 38-0 lead — and secured some early rest for the two pillars of Drinkwitz’s offense.
“You hope in two quarters you play well enough and put enough points on the board,” Bazelak said. “We did, and I’m kind of glad I was able to sit out the second half.”
By the end of their annual game against Football Championship Subdivision road kill, the Tigers (2-1) had handled their visitors from Cape Girardeau, though Mizzou’s backup defenders showed exactly why they’re backup defenders. Against MU’s second and third units, the Redhawks (0-3) outscored the Tigers 28-21 in the second half and racked up 304 of their 373 yards.
They merely amounted to nits for Drinkwitz to pick after such a lopsided first half.
“Not concerned about it in the least,” he said. “It was 38-0 at halftime.”
Thanks to Bazelak, who in his 12th career start but first against an FCS team shredded the Redhawks for 346 yards and three touchdown passes in the first half, completing 21 of his 30 attempts. He connected on his first 10 passes and didn’t throw his first incompletion until the first minute of the second quarter. Through two and a half games, he’s already eclipsed his 2020 touchdown pass total of seven, now with nine on the year.
But all the yards and points haven’t come easy for Bazelak, who took a beating last week at Kentucky and was slow to get up after a few collisions Saturday.
“Connor I think is trying to get an acting deal … with as much as he sits there and wallows after he gets hurt,” Drinkwitz joked. “Everybody is nervous about it, and I say ‘Are you OK?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m just putting on.’ I’m like, ‘Cut that crap out.’”
“I’m doing fine,” Bazelak said. “Last week took a little toll on me, but I’m all right. …. Nothing a little meds can’t fix.”
If anything, the second-year starter continues to win over his teammates with his toughness in the pocket.
“Connor, he’s gonna play. He’s a competitor,” Badie said. “Competitors will get up and keep playing. They’re gonna fight through adversity. That’s what he’s gonna do. … Keep getting up. But if he’s hurt, just hand it to me.”
That strategy continued to work Saturday as Badie was every bit impressive in his brief outing, blistering SEMO for 81 rushing yards and two scores on just nine carries. He added two catches for 14 yards and a touchdown. That gives the senior tailback six scores on the young season.
The rest of the game was a chance for Mizzou to showcase some young depth on both sides of the ball. The results were mixed.
Second-year wideouts Boo Smith, Chance Luper and JJ Hester all snagged their first career touchdowns on a day when 14 different Tigers caught passes, including nine wide receivers. Freshman wideouts Dominic Lovett (four catches for 79 yards) and Mookie Cooper (four for 64) made their first career starts and continued to blossom in Drinkwitz’s system. Even Bazelak’s two backups got in on the onslaught as Brady Cook and Tyler Macon both threw touchdowns in the second half. Walk-on running back Michael Cox put the final touches on Mizzou’s 675-yard day with a 55-yard touchdown rumble in the final minutes.
But Drinkwitz delivered his strongest point on the final series of the first half. Leading 31-0, the Tigers had punctured the red zone with less than a minute to play, but when a third-and-10 pass to Cooper only gained 8 yards, Drinkwitz kept his foot firmly on the gas. He called a timeout to set up a fourth-down play, a Badie run for 4 yards to the lip of the end zone, setting up the 1-yard plunge for another touchdown and a 38-0 lead going into halftime.
With or without the TD, Mizzou’s lead was safe. But Drinkwitz’s message was clear: Finish what you started.
“We never want to finish a drive that well with a field goal,” Badie said. “The biggest thing is when we’re in the red zone, score touchdowns. That was our goal coming in this week.”
On the game’s sixth play from scrimmage, Badie broke off a 49-yard touchdown run then revisited the end zone on an 11-yard pass on MU’s second series.
On their third possession, the Tigers finally had some success in their vertical passing game as Bazelak launched a strike to Smith for a 46-yard touchdown for a 21-0 lead. Backed all the way to the 1-yard line to open the next series, Bazelak opened with a play-action bomb to Cooper from deep in his own end zone, good for another 46-yard gain.
When it came to Saturday’s game plan, Drinkwitz didn’t go easy on the FCS foe. The Tigers threw the ball 30 times in the first half, testing the SEMO secondary several times with the kind of deep throws Bazelak struggled to complete in MU’s first two games.
“Doesn’t matter who our opponent is. We treated this week like it was the Super Bowl,” Drinkwitz said. “We try to call our best stuff with the best plan possible. Attack the defense. Use our strengths against their weaknesses. Invest in who we are. So, the opponent is irrelevant to us.”
The caliber of opponent cranks up a notch next week when it’s back to reality against a Power 5 foe on the road. The Tigers play at Boston College (3-0) on Saturday in a game that figures to offer more resistance on both sides of the ball — and more than first-half cameos for Bazelak and Badie.