BY TRAVIS DAVID
COLUMBIA — Sometimes a coach can learn more about his team during a defeat than in victory.
First-year Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz may have learned a valuable trait about his Tigers on Saturday night.
Despite a season-opening 38-19 loss to No. 2 Alabama at Memorial Stadium, the Tigers may have shown their new coach something positive as they move forward.
Missouri did not quit.
Trailing 35-6 heading into the final 15 minutes of play, Missouri outscored the Tide, 13-3 in the final quarter.
“I am proud of the fight our team displayed tonight,” Drinkwitz said. “It could have easily gone a lot of different ways but we all stuck together. I liked the fight at the end which is important. But the bottom line is we did not play well enough on either side of the ball.”
After going three-and-out on its first possession, Alabama proceeded to score on the next three trips down the field for a 21-0 lead just two plays into the second quarter.
Najee Harris scored on a pair of 1-yard plunges with a Mac Jones 18-yard touchdown strike to Jaylen Waddle sandwiched in between.
The Tigers got on the board with 6:00 left in the opening half when Harris Mevis split the uprights from 27 yards.
Jones and Waddle would team up once again with 1:09 left in the half, this time from 23 yards, to give the Tide a commanding 28-3 cushion at the half.
Missouri fumbled away its first possession of the second half and the Tide quickly capitalized.
Alabama needed just six plays to march 63 yards, capped by Harris’ third score of the game — from eight yards.
But then the Missouri defense buckled down. The Tigers held Alabama to just a field goal over the final 24-plus minutes of the game.
“I thought our defense showed a lot of fight there in the third and fourth quarters,” Drinkwitz said. “Martez Manual made some key tackles and some clutch plays…he was just all over the field for us.”
Manual finished the game with 3.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and a career-high seven total tackles.
— Travis David (@TDavid_21) September 27, 2020
Tyler Badie scored the first touchdown of the game for Missouri when the junior hauled in a 54-yard pass from Shawn Robinson with 8:28 left in the game.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak capped the scoring with a 7-yard run on the final play of the game.
Larry Roundtree led the Tigers with 67 rushing yards on 14 totes. No other Tiger finished with more than 12 yards rushing (Bazelak).
Roundtree’s total moved him into fifth place on the Tigers all-time rushing yards list.
Robinson completed 19 of 25 passes for 185 yards with Jalen Knox hauling in five passes for 63 yards.
Harris led Bama with a game-high 98 yards on the ground and Jones completed 18 of 24 passes for 249 yards.
Waddle (8-134) and DeVonta Smith (8-89) combined for 16 catches and 223 yards
Drinkwitz mentioned one of the biggest problems the Tigers had Saturday night was coming up with stops on third down.
“We have to get off the field,” he said of his defense. “They (Alabama) were 9 of 14 on third-down conversions and that is just not good enough. We have a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball and that is what we are going to get to work on starting tomorrow.”
Missouri hits the road next week when it travels to Knoxville to face No. 16 Tennessee.