Have you ever been on the receiving end of a shaggy dog story? I’m talking about a one-way conversation in which you initially think the speaker is a colorful type who likes to set the scene by establishing a series of minor characters who play a key role later on, although it gets a little confusing because the speaker starts really leaning on the phrase “ol’ boy,” which could be a reference to any number of the characters, and soon you start to wonder if there is indeed a clear end point to this journey. Politeness compels you feign interest, to respond when prompted, to try to clarify the details, but after the fifth time you’ve heard the sentence, “You couldn’t get away with that these days,” you realize the play here is to encourage no potential tangents to an already aimless story. The bartender offers a sympathetic look, but she isn’t stepping in — better you than her. You start thinking desperately. Would it be OK to say, “I have diarrhea,” and scurry from the room? The speaker isn’t giving you the opening you need. He’s closing in on your personal space, has you by the arm, is delivering a tedious anecdote from 1987 involving I believe a man named Skip or maybe some other ol’ boy, punctuating the loss of another minute of your life with a cackle that transforms into a rattling cough from the depths of his Marlboro-cured lungs.
If any of this sounds even vaguely familiar, you have felt what Kentucky was feeling Saturday on Missouri’s first drive of the second half.
The Tigers meandered 66 yards in 21 plays over the course of 9½ minutes. Kentucky ultimately stopped Connor Bazelak behind the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-1 on the 21st play, but the damage was done. The Wildcats were beaten down and bored to death, their spirit sapped by too many 4-yard passes, 2-yard runs and first downs achieved by inches. Missouri’s next drive met little resistance.
The Tigers had won by filibuster.
Long after Missouri’s 20-10 victory ended, I couldn’t get the memory of that rambling, ultimately pointless drive out of my head. Sixty-six yards. Twenty-one plays. That’s what Kirk Ferentz types into a Pornhub search bar. Was that drive even mathematically possible given the requirements of gaining 10 yards every four plays?
Then it hit me. The Tigers had indeed tapped into math. By averaging 3.14285714286 yards per play, they had achieved the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. They averaged pi per play! Well, not precisely pi, because, as even a journalism major like this ol’ boy knows, pi’s decimal trail never ends. It can’t be expressed as a fraction, but the closest approximation is 22/7, which is the lowest terms of 66/21, so it was as close to π as 22 large men without immediate access to computers could collaboratively produce. Pi is the secret sauce to all sorts of formulas, including the one for ending a five-year losing streak to Kentucky.
Sorry, listen to me, dragging this discussion down a dead end of trigonometry … or is it geometry? … definitely one of the ometries … when the point is football.
Unfortunately for Missouri, its outlandish 92-36 edge in plays from scrimmage and 43-17 advantage in minutes of possession is not replicable. Eli Drinkwitz said after the game that he’d never been a part of a game like that. He probably won’t again. It requires lots of consistency and little explosiveness from your team, plus an opponent that doesn’t give up big plays and doesn’t create them. But the fact it happened once is a testament to how far Missouri has come after straggling out of Tennessee looking like its problems could only be solved by replacing the current players with better ones.
Missouri’s defensive line, which would have struggled to hold the Volunteers to 66 yards on 21 quarterback sneaks, has stiffened. If you’re a Kentucky fan, you’re probably not thrilled that your team, which has an established ground-and-pound identity, opened the game with three straight passes and didn’t commit more fully to running the ball. But I give the Tigers credit for holding the Wildcats to 4.3 yards per carry and getting off the field with third-down stops.
Missouri’s wide receivers haven’t dropped a pass since the Tennessee game. There isn’t a game-breaker in the bunch, so it comes down to not screwing up. Jalen Knox’s stat line — five catches for 60 yards — doesn’t do justice to his contribution against Kentucky. He converted two third downs and one fourth down on the aforementioned 21-play glacial encroachment on the northern half of Faurot Field.
The more I watch Bazelak, the more I appreciate him. Against Kentucky, he didn’t have receivers running free, but he didn’t get greedy. The way the game developed, the Wildcats needed a few turnovers or maybe even a defensive touchdown to win, but Bazelak never gave them an opening. He’s mature for a freshman, albeit a second-year freshman … who will be a freshman next year, too.
Drinkwitz didn’t have a flawless game day. He admitted his clock management at the end of the first half shorted the Tigers a few shots at the end zone, and he said he should have kicked a field goal to take a two-possession lead on fourth-and-1 on the first possession of the second half. But that’s almost beside the point compared to how Drinkwitz has created a winning mentality in a team that had little cause for confidence a month ago. Missouri dominated every statistical category and the game should have been more lopsided, but, be honest, after the Wildcats cut the lead to seven early in the fourth quarter and the Tigers went three-and-out, your mind drifted to 2018 and the worst-case scenario. But from that point on, Missouri played loose and aggressive and re-established control. Two weeks earlier, it made four straight defensive stops on the goal line when all signs pointed to defeat. They’ve played well in big moments.
It’s a short sample size during a chaotic season, but this is going way better than I expected for Missouri. The defense has adjusted and improved during the season. The offense has shown it can win with different approaches. And it certainly appears Missouri has found its quarterback.
It’s almost like this story is headed somewhere.