Is the offensive line beyond fixing? 10 thoughts on Mizzou’s loss to Auburn

Missouri football had it. The Tigers had two chances to win Saturday. They couldn't finish.

Here are 10 thoughts on the gut-wrenching, agonizing and absolutely avoidable loss to Auburn.

More:Same old problems cost Missouri at Auburn. Can issues be fixed after crushing defeat?

1. This was Christmas in September for Mizzou. The Tigers couldn't take advantage.

There may not be another game this season where MU is basically handed a win multiple times.

On fourth-and-1 in field-goal range late in regulation, instead of trying a game-winning field goal, Auburn handed the ball off behind a suspect offensive line against a Missouri defensive line that had been playing well all game. That stop led to a last-minute drive to set up a game-winning field goal attempt for MU.

That's one of the many situations Missouri had to take a lead or flat-out win the game. In a season where the staff has talked up the team's additions on the coaching staff and with its personnel, Missouri should have won the game.

Auburn certainly didn't seem to want it. It didn't deserve it, either. The fourth-down play in the fourth quarter was predictable and didn't play to the team's strengths. Auburn was also playing its fourth-string quarterback at one point. And later, Auburn gift-wrapped an interception in overtime that Missouri was an inch away from corralling.

So many opportunities. One loss to show for it.

Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz mentioned after the Kansas State game that all blame rests on him. I don't think football is that simple. One man can't control the weather, how 18-to-22-year-old players will play when the bright lights are on or how the other team will play.

What Drinkwitz could control is how many plays he ran on the last drive in regulation.

On first-and-goal from the 3-yard line with less than a minute left, Drinkwitz opted to kneel out the clock and send out the field-goal unit. It was easy to trust Harrison Mevis, and he should.

But why not take two shots at the end zone before kneeling?

Nate Peat had 117 rushing yards and was averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Cody Schrader already had a rushing touchdown. Drinkwitz was in his right to play for the field goal, but why didn’t MU go for the kill? That’s at least two chances to win the game, perhaps three.

Even if the offense just ran the ball twice and played for the field goal, that's not conservative. That's playing to win. I get being cautious about a fumble at that moment, but MU should trust its running backs to take care of the ball.

"You get a chance to end the game on your last play," Drinkwitz said. "You know before half they move the ball right down the field and give themselves a chance for a field goal, plus they had two timeouts. So we wanted to take their timeouts."

MU got its chance to win but could have had three. That killed them as much as the offsides on Auburn's missed field goal in overtime and the Martez Manuel interception that didn't stand in overtime.

Missouri quarterback Brady Cook (12) is tackled by Auburn linebacker Owen Pappoe (0) and defensive lineman Marcus Harris (50) during the second quarter Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.
Missouri quarterback Brady Cook (12) is tackled by Auburn linebacker Owen Pappoe (0) and defensive lineman Marcus Harris (50) during the second quarter Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.

2. Is the offensive line beyond fixing?

Of the six drives in the second half that ended in a Missouri punt, four of them included either a sack, a penalty or both.

These are the types of outcomes that make you question what’s going wrong. Where is the disconnect? MU basically forced its way to make the deep passing game work the last two weeks. It did when it mattered most, as Cook connected with Dominic Lovett for 39 yards to the Auburn 3-yard line.

It keeps coming back to the play calling and the offensive line. One is affecting the other, and it's more of the line affecting the rest of the offense.

Auburn recorded four sacks against Missouri on Saturday. Auburn had four sacks in its first three games combined, with three coming against San Jose State.

The Auburn defensive line isn’t Georgia — the Bulldogs come to town next weekend — but the way Auburn’s line affected the game felt like an issue MU didn't have an answer for.

Missouri finally went somewhere on its fourth drive of the second half. Two running plays had the ball at Auburn’s 36. A holding penalty and a sack warped the drive into a punt.

At this point, is it worth wondering what some of the younger linemen from this past recruiting class bring? Oklahoma transfer EJ Ndoma-Ogar was listed on the second team with Mitchell Walters and Connor Wood; where does he move now if Zeke Powell misses time?

I get not wanting to play Armand Membou in case the staff wants to preserve his redshirt season and have him for four full years. But something still needs to change. There are avenues for more changes.

Something needs to improve with the offensive line or the passing game might stay mired with penalties and sacks. Those are the negative plays that kill drives.

Missouri Tigers offensive lineman Mitchell Walters (75) reacts to the replay of the final play as Auburn Tigers take on Missouri Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. Auburn Tigers defeated Missouri Tigers 17-14.
Missouri Tigers offensive lineman Mitchell Walters (75) reacts to the replay of the final play as Auburn Tigers take on Missouri Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. Auburn Tigers defeated Missouri Tigers 17-14.

More:What should Mizzou have done differently? What Eli Drinkwitz said after 'devastating' loss

3. This is the second time in as many SEC games that Mevis has missed potential game-winners.

Turn the clock back to Florida last season. MU had a chance to win the game in the final seconds. Harrison Mevis missed a field goal.

Mevis missed from 26 yards out with the game on the line Saturday.

Granted, Missouri had six drives at Auburn where it punted. MU could have given Mevis at least six other chances at nailing a field goal.

Mevis, however, is The Associated Press All-American first-team kicker, and that’s a concerning trend in SEC games. He also missed two field goals against Abilene Christian.

It’s never great when one of the most dependable parts of your team is suddenly missing field goals. Last year, Mevis missed two field goals all season long. This year, he’s already missed three.

This isn’t condemning the junior. His talent is clear. He also has nine more games to rebound, and he’ll most likely get another chance to kick in crunch time during a game again. He got multiple of those chances last season and came through with a 56-yard kick to send the Boston College game to overtime in Week 4. However, he’s made two of his last five field-goal attempts.

Mevis, a staple and fan favorite on this 2022 MU team, doesn’t deserve to get relegated to the Twitter hashtag #CollegeKickers, which only points out when college football kickers stumble.

It's just another concerning aspect of this Missouri team that is struggling to get points.

Auburn safety Cayden Bridges (20) recovers a fumble in the end zone to secure the win as Missouri offensive lineman Connor Tollison (55) reaches for the ball during overtime Saturday in Auburn, Ala.
Auburn safety Cayden Bridges (20) recovers a fumble in the end zone to secure the win as Missouri offensive lineman Connor Tollison (55) reaches for the ball during overtime Saturday in Auburn, Ala.

4. Say what you will, leave Peat out of it.

Of all the faults Missouri could claim Saturday, Nathaniel Peat’s fumble on the last play of the game is not something I’m faulting him for at all.

He deserves no blame for trying to win the game by extending the ball over the goal line. At least someone on that sideline wanted to physically take the win.

His fumble into the end zone was an agonizing play, and especially for Peat, who transferred back to Missouri to live out the dreams he had playing with high school teammate Martez Manuel.

Watching the replay, it looked like it was a bang-bang play in full speed. It wasn’t. Peat wasn’t hit as he began to extend the ball toward the goal line. The ball just slipped out of his hands as he extended.

But that’s it: agony, heartbreak at its highest degree. When it rains, it pours. It wasn’t MU’s day.

Peat tried to win the game. He just had a horrible circumstance that kept MU from being 3-1 on the season. I imagine it being horrible to watch at the moment as a Missouri fan, but imagine how Peat feels.

You can never fault a player for doing everything to win a game, no matter how you feel about it as a fan.

5. It's up to Drinkwitz to make sure apathy does not set in now.

Now comes a pivotal point in the season.

Auburn seemed to many fans like one of the few SEC opponents Missouri could realistically beat. Beating Auburn would have had MU at 3-1. Three more wins and the Tigers would clinch a bowl game.

But now at 2-2, with the brunt of SEC play starting, Missouri will host Georgia and travel to Florida before its bye week. That's two teams that have spent time in the AP Top 25, one that boasts what feels like an NFL-caliber defense and the other that boasts one of the most exciting quarterback prospects in college football in Anthony Richardson.

For next week, MU might need to fight fan apathy, specifically with the student section.

Almost as soon as the fumble was recovered by Auburn in the end zone, students were attempting to resell their Georgia tickets in student group chats.

This is the same student section that Drinkwitz praised after MU's first home games, and the same group of fans he spent all offseason courting to come to games.

Missouri has to change things before apathy completely sets in.

6. Tight ends were involved more in the right way.

One of the ways tight ends were included on Saturday was one of the correct ways to use a tight end.

Kibet Chepyator, who has seemed to take the top tight end spot over Tyler Stephens, had three receptions for 26 yards. All career highs.

These short-yardage receptions on bootlegs are exactly the kind of plays to get MU going. The need to throw the ball down the field is there, and always will be, but it won’t be available every play.

Sometimes, throwing a four-yard pass to Chepyator to just get the ball moving in a positive direction is the best play. Especially in a game where one drive could have been the difference.

Thinking of it in another light, a quick strike for four yards could also turn into 14. That’s the longest reception Chepyator had against Auburn. That went for a first down. Missouri didn’t record a first down in the third quarter.

A quick-strike throw doesn’t leave much time for anything else. Moving outside of the pocket reduces the chances of holding penalties or sacks, both of which Missouri had way too many of Saturday.

7. There’s a difference between forcing it to Luther, and making a concerted effort to get an electric player the ball.

Luther Burden had three targets Saturday with no receptions. He was back at punt returner, getting spelled for a while by Lovett with no real reason given. Some tweets said Burden was walking gingerly on the sidelines, but nothing official was delegated down from Missouri athletics.

Either way, the fact he didn’t factor into the offense is worrisome.

We’ve seen Burden make incredible plays. He’s also had just a grand total of 22 touches in his first four games. He should be expected to be leading the team in touches, especially if Lovett has earned more targets himself and players like Peat are turning into the first option at running back.

But just 22 touches for a player who's shown he can take the ball to the house at any time is not enough.

This isn’t to say Missouri should start forcing it to Burden. That leads to bad decisions, and bad decisions lead to turnovers. This offense can’t afford that.

However, there wasn’t any attempt to get Burden in the wildcat looks against Auburn that Missouri used in the first three games.

Drinkwitz mentioned he liked the wildcat since it gets the ball directly into Burden’s hands. That’s good. Trying more of that is worth exploring, especially if the matchup fits the situation.

The bottom line is Burden doesn’t just deserve the ball more. He needs it. Missouri needs it, too.

8. Stonehouse is a great example of what a subtle change can be.

When Jack Stonehouse spelled Sean Koetting at punter last week, it felt like the makings of a permanent change.

Saturday may have cemented that.

Stonehouse was called upon plenty, punting eight times against Auburn for an average of 48 yards per kick. He had three punts sail over 50 yards, including 60- and 68-yard punts.

That 68-yard punt in the first half was the longest by a Missouri punter in over three seasons. It was the longest since Corey Fatoney booted a 69-yard punt in the 2018 Liberty Bowl against Oklahoma State.

Stonehouse also dropped five kicks inside the 20. If he stays consistent with that leg, Missouri will be winning the field position game a few times this season.

Georgia running back Kendall Milton (2) tries the break the tackle of Kent State safety JoJo Evans (23) during the second half at Sanford Stadium.
Georgia running back Kendall Milton (2) tries the break the tackle of Kent State safety JoJo Evans (23) during the second half at Sanford Stadium.

9. MU has a mountain to climb against motivated Georgia

The Bulldogs, the defending national champions, allowed 22 points to Kent State this past weekend after allowing just 10 in the first three games of the season.

It’s a scary thought thinking a No. 1 Georgia, at 4-0, might need to wash a performance where it scored 39 points and won. Missouri is eyeing to piece its heart back together after having it broken at Auburn.

That’s the difference between the two programs.

MU has a chance to shock the world. To do that, it might need to play perfect football against a defense that replaced double-digit NFL draft picks with players who’ll also most likely be NFL draft picks this year and in years to come.

Kansas Jayhawk fans embrace their sold-out seats inside David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium for Satuday's game against Duke.
Kansas Jayhawk fans embrace their sold-out seats inside David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium for Satuday's game against Duke.

10. Kansas (4-0) received 125 votes in the AP Top 25 poll this weekend.

The Jayhawks received more votes than anyone else not in the AP Top 25. They were No. 26 overall, next to No. 25 Kansas State.

There isn't much else I can say about that.

One more win and Kansas is a top 25 team. Who would have bet Kansas would make the AP Top 25 before Drinkwitz’s Tigers?

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: 10 thoughts on Mizzou’s loss to Auburn10 thoughts on Mizzou’s loss to Auburn