Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said last week that Missouri played Senior Day against New Mexico State in large part because of crowds, as many students are home for the Thanksgiving break this week and the regular-season finals are a short week later.
There was another reason why he left it out.
“The most important thing for us is that they have a trophy and we want it,” said Drinkwitz on Monday. “The only way to get it is to play our best game and prepare as best we can and play with incredible effort. And that’s the focus. That’s why we did senior citizens’ week last week.”
Missouri is focused solely on Arkansas, and everything else — including talk of a possible bowl game — is secondary.
The Tigers, currently 5-6, would earn a bowl bid with a win over the Razorbacks. But even if they lose, they could still sneak into a bowl. Missouri has a relatively high academic progression rate (APR), which decides which five-win teams make a bowl game when there aren’t enough six-win teams.
“The only thing we’re focused on is that it’s a rivalry game and it’s a trophy week,” Drinkwitz said. “That’s it. None of the other things matter. … This week is all about Rivalry Week, Arkansas and the Battle Line Trophy. Whatever happens after that, happens.”
Drinkwitz’s players repeated his message. While safety Martez Manuel acknowledged the implication of a 6-6 versus 5-7 and said it made a big difference, both he and linebacker Chad Bailey downplayed how much the team is thinking about it right now.
“Honestly, I’m not really focused on the bowl game right now,” Manuel said. “I was just kind of focused on this week and winning that game.”
“The Battle Line Trophy is what we’re playing for, honestly,” said Bailey. “The bowl game is just an extra.”
Williams praised the reaction to the injury
When his number was called against New Mexico State on Saturday, Jalani Williams didn’t disappoint. With starting safety Joseph Charleston retiring in the first half with an undisclosed injury, Williams turned his chance into a reward.
Williams played 51 snaps against the Aggies — the most of any Missouri defender. And between those occasions, fourth-year safety reeled in his first college interception.
“Without a doubt he didn’t get the reruns he wanted all year and I get it,” Baker said. “But he’s a senior who works every day and prepares every day like he’s a rookie.”
With Charleston not training on Monday, Williams could see a spike in snaps on Friday if the Clemson transfer can’t go ahead.
Baker also used Williams as an example for the younger players who thought their time to play would not come. As staff evaluated the play of those who were given an opportunity, Baker found that freshmen want to be there, sophomores want to play, juniors want to start, and seniors want to win.
“They show you flashes and they also show you why they are not willing to play 60 snaps a game,” Baker said.
Though the scoreboard showed a blowout in Missouri’s favour, there are still areas where the defense feels it needs to refine and clean up before hosting Arkansas on Friday. The Tigers were able to rely on younger players and remaining starters in their win over New Mexico State.
“Any time you can take that load off, it’s going to be beneficial,” Baker said.
It was also beneficial for these irregulars to see snaps in the fourth quarter. Baker wanted players Missouri is counting on next season to see the field and calls it a win-win.
“Even though it was a seniors night, it’s also about the future and we saw a bit of that,” said Manuel.
Bailey explains the decision to return
Many players, coaches, analysts, and fans believe Bailey is having a terrific year as a linebacker for Missouri. This list does not include Bailey.
Bailey said Monday he’s not thinking about what he wants to do this year, and he said it played a role in his decision to return to Columbia for the 2023 season.
“I missed a few games and I feel like I owe it to me and Mizzou to come back and have a better season this year and help lead this team,” Bailey said.
Despite missing two games with a shoulder injury against Auburn, Bailey is fifth on the team with 43 tackles. He also has a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and two passes defended.
Bailey has also received high marks from Pro Football Focus for his pass coverage.
Next season will be Bailey’s sixth and final year of college football. He made eight starts in 2021, becoming a midseason starter and helping solidify the Tigers’ run defense.
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