It’s unclear what game film Alabama head coach Nick Saban used to guess the formations the Missouri offense would use Saturday night.
Or maybe the Crimson Tide’s defense is just really that good, deserving of the No. 2 ranking they continue to hold in this week’s Amway Coaches Poll.
Either way, the Tigers couldn’t find a consistent offensive rhythm in the game until the fourth quarter, when it was too late for a comeback, falling to Alabama 38-19 in front of a socially distant crowd of 11,738 at Faurot Field.
TCU transfer and redshirt junior Shawn Robinson got the start at quarterback against the Crimson Tide and played every offensive series but two. Redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak got the nod on the remaining pair of drives, including leading Missouri down the field for a touchdown as time expired.
It’s clear Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz favored Robinson’s ability against the Crimson Tide, though Bazelak again showed potential.
Bazelak’s first series, his only against Alabama’s starters, was a three-and-out. Two pass plays to Damon Hazelton went for little gain, but he didn’t have better options and chose to pick his battle on third down.
That third down was frustrating for Tiger fans as the rollout play provided Bazelak with three options: run for the first down (he had enough room), throw it to Keke Chism (who was streaking across the middle and open in first-down range) or a difficult, downfield throw to Hazelton, who was in double coverage with a small window for a completed pass.
He chose the third option. Bazelak proved during the last drive of the game he has the accuracy and arm strength to complete that throw, but with Patrick Surtain II, one of the Southeastern Conference’s premier cornerbacks, guarding Hazelton on the play, there appeared to have been a better option.
It’s unclear if that decision was why Robinson was subbed back in for nearly the rest of the game, as Robinson made a few mistakes of his own.
Bazelak finished the game 7-of-14 passing for 68 yards, while Robinson went 19-of-25 for 185 yards and a touchdown.
In his first start at Missouri, Robinson recorded a completion percentage of 76%, the best by a Tiger quarterback in a debut since Blaine Gabbert completed 75.8% against Illinois in September 2009.
"I thought Shawn gave us the best chance to move the ball with his legs and in some of the read game we were going to try," Drinkwitz said. "He'd played in some games before. So he had that experience against some of these guys and I thought he handled it well. I think him and Connor both had some flash points and both did some things they got to learn from obviously. The sacks were very disappointing and the negative plays.
"And that's really the thing that we've been preaching all fall camp is we’ve got to stay away from the negative plays. And both quarterbacks did some really good things, but they’ve got to eliminate the negative plays in order for us to be successful offensively."
Drinkwitz added he hadn’t thought about who will start moving forward. Obviously, there’s much more game film of Robinson to break down, critique and correct by the time Missouri faces Tennessee next Saturday.
The Volunteers moved up one spot to No. 20 in Sunday’s Amway Coaches Poll after their 31-27 win over South Carolina in Week 1. Tennessee was ranked No. 16 in last week’s Associated Press poll.
Robinson said he knew he was starting a few days before lining up against Alabama, his first college game since the fall of 2018.
"I’ve got to do better," Robinson said. "Decision-making, just eliminate bonehead plays and be smart with the ball and don’t beat ourselves. ... I felt good. Obviously, I hadn’t played in like a year. So just trying to knock the rust off. But I felt good going into the game, I felt comfortable."
By the time Robinson spoke with the media after the game, he had already had a conversation with Drinkwitz about his performance.
When asked about his third-and-goal from the Crimson Tide 4-yard line where he took a 16-yard loss, being sacked by a host of Alabama players, he said, "That’s purely on me," and that he should have thrown the ball away.
Things to improve, for sure, but there is now a starting point to work from in 2020.