‘Going to be a challenge’: Missouri football focused on limiting turnovers at Vandy

·3 min read

Last week’s bye offered a chance for Missouri football to hit the reset button following a 3-4 start to the season, particularly for quarterback Connor Bazelak.

Through the first three games, the redshirt sophomore had thrown nine touchdowns to one interception. But since then, he’s thrown three touchdowns to six interceptions, all of which have come in the last three games.

The offense can’t afford to make such mistakes in this Saturday’s contest against Vanderbilt if Mizzou intends to avoid an upset on the road and finally pick up its first win against a Power Five opponent this season.

Though the mention of the Commodores hardly makes one shake in their boots, given the team is 2-6 on the season and has been blown out by all but one SEC opponent, their ability to force turnovers on defense should. Especially for a Mizzou offense already struggling with holding onto the football.

Vanderbilt has recorded six interceptions over its last three games, coming up with two against Mississippi State, two against South Carolina and two against Florida. The Commodores’ defense has forced 10 total interceptions on the season, which is tied for ninth in the country.

“That’s going to be a challenge for us,” Drinkwitz said. “We have got to take care of the football.”

Senior safety Dashaun Jerkins leads the team with three of those, on a hot streak after recording one in each of the last three contests. Sophomore linebacker Ethan Barr and junior cornerback Jaylen Mahoney have two interceptions apiece.

“They’ve got a great scheme,” Bazelak said of the Vanderbilt defense. “They play hard. I can tell they’re smart, well-coached players and they do their job. And we just got to find ways to attack it.”

Drinkwitz said cutting down turnovers was a big focus over the bye week, along with penalties and slow starts. He pointed to preparation, decision making and protection as the three biggest keys to Bazlelak limiting interceptions thrown on offense.

“Understanding what they’re trying to do and why that’s not a good throw and then making sure that there’s protection so we’re not forcing a ball into situations that they shouldn’t be in,” Drinkwitz said. “Those are things that we’re working through and will continue to improve.”

Bazelak said he has focused on throwing with more accuracy, noting that two of his interceptions were the direct result of inaccurate throws.

When reviewing film, the quarterback also noticed that there were some throws he wasn’t stepping into enough because he was timid after taking pressure, which he worked on a lot over the bye as well.

There’s also been an emphasis on using his legs more to get out of the pocket and make plays. Bazelak pointed to the Kentucky game, in which he carried the ball six times for 28 yards, as a good example to strive for. In the last three contests against Tennessee, North Texas and Texas A&M, Bazelak ran the ball six times for a loss of 28 yards.

“I think it’s just knowing when the right time to do that is and not doing it just like pre-snap thinking that I’m going to do that,” Bazelak said. “Just kind of knowing when they all sync, in the back of my head knowing that I can use my legs and you get a first down on a third down maybe.”

Though he knows he needs to improve in these areas and is eager for the team to get off to faster starts, Bazelak said he believes the offense has been “doing well” and looks forward to “finishing strong” the rest of the season. That starts on the road this Saturday against a defense prone to forcing turnovers.

“This offense can score points, we can move the ball against anyone,” Bazelak said. “We’ll start winning games.”

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