Coming into Missouri’s 2020 season opener against No. 2 Alabama, new coach Eli Drinkwitz and the Tigers knew they had to rely on defense — and for good reason.
With six returning defensive starters playing in Saturday night’s Southeastern Conference showdown at Faurot Field, and the only three returning assistant coaches on the Tigers’ staff on that side of the ball, Missouri is counting on its defense to provide the backbone of Drinkwitz’s first year leading the team.
Missouri quickly found out in its first of 10 league games of this pandemic-shortened season that there was only so much it could do against the second-ranked team in the country that has proven talent at every position.
The Crimson Tide flexed their muscle from early in the first quarter with long, methodical drives capped off by running back Najee Harris, combined with quick strikes with quarterback Mac Jones commonly finding talented wide receiver Jaylen Waddle for a one-two punch that knocked Missouri out by a final score of 38-19.
The socially distant crowd of 11,738 witnessed Alabama score four touchdowns in the first half, while Missouri had trouble moving the ball until the fourth quarter, when the Tigers scored their lone two touchdowns.
Jones finished the game completing 18 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns, both to Waddle, who finished with eight catches for 134 yards. Harris had 17 carries for 98 yards and three touchdowns.
Devin Nicholson led Missouri with 10 tackles, followed by Nick Bolton and Tyree Gillespie, who had eight apiece.
Columbia native and Tiger safety Martez Manuel made seven tackles in the game and 3 1/2 stops for loss, more than triple the amount of any other Missouri player.
Drinkwitz started TCU transfer Shawn Robinson at quarterback and played the junior in all but two series. He finished 19-of-25 passing for 185 yards and a score — a 54-yard wheel-route pass to Tyler Badie, the first touchdown of the Drinkwitz era.
Backup quarterback Connor Bazelak scored on a 7-yard run as time expired, and Harrison Mevis converted two field goals in the defeat.
Missouri returns to action next Saturday on the road against No. 16 Tennessee, while Alabama has a home game against Texas A&M.