Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said last week that Missouri did senior day against New Mexico State in large part because of the crowd size, with many students are home this week for Thanksgiving break and the regular-season finale being after a short week.
There was one more reason he left out.
“The most important thing to us is they have a trophy, and we want it,” Drinkwitz said Monday. “The only way to get it is to play our best game and to prepare the way we know how to prepare, and to play with unbelievable effort. And that’s the focus. That’s why we did senior week last week.”
Missouri is focused entirely on Arkansas, and anything else — including talk of a potential bowl game — is secondary.
The Tigers, currently 5-6, would secure a bowl bid with a win over the Razorbacks. Even if they lose, though, they could still sneak into a bowl. Missouri has a relatively high academic progress rate (APR), which decides which five-win teams make a bowl game if there are not enough six-win teams.
“The only thing we’re focused on is it’s a rivalry game and it’s trophy week,” Drinkwitz said. “That’s it. None of the other stuff matters. … This week is all about rivalry week, Arkansas and the Battle Line Trophy. Whatever happens after that happens.”
Drinkwitz’s players echoed his message. While safety Martez Manuel acknowledged the implication of finishing 6-6 as opposed to 5-7, saying it makes a big difference, both he and linebacker Chad Bailey downplayed how much the team is thinking about it right now.
“Honestly, not really focused on the bowl game right now,” Manuel said. “Just kind of focused on this week and winning this game.”
“The Battle Line Trophy is what we’re playing for, honestly.” Bailey said. “The bowl game is just extra.”
Williams praised for response to injury
When his number was called Saturday against New Mexico State, Jalani Williams didn’t disappoint. With starting safety Joseph Charleston exiting in the first half with an undisclosed injury, Williams turned his opportunity into a reward.
Williams played 51 snaps against the Aggies — the most of any Missouri defensive player. And between those opportunities, the fourth-year safety reeled in his first collegiate interception.
“Without a doubt, he has not gotten the reps that he’s wanted throughout the year, and I get it,” Baker said. “But he’s a senior that works every single day and prepares every single day like he’s a starter.”
With Charleston not practicing Monday, Williams could see an uptick in snaps Friday if the Clemson transfer can’t go.
Baker also used Williams as an example to the younger players, who were thinking their time to play wasn’t coming. As the staff evaluated play from those who were given an opportunity, Baker noted freshmen are happy 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’re not ready to play 60 snaps a game,” Baker said.
Although the scoreboard showed a blowout in Missouri’s favor, there are still areas where the defense feels like it needs to fine tune and clean up before it hosts Arkansas on Friday. The Tigers were able to play younger players and rest starters in the win over New Mexico State.
“Anytime you can take that load off, it’s going to be beneficial,” Baker said.
It was also beneficial for those irregulars to see snaps into the fourth quarter. Baker wanted players Missouri is counting on next season to see the field, calling it a win-win situation.
“Even though it was senior night, it’s about the future as well, and we got to see a little bit of that,” Manuel said.
Bailey explains decision to return
Many players, coaches, analysts and fans think Bailey is having an excellent year at linebacker for Missouri. That list does not include Bailey.
Bailey said Monday he doesn’t think about what he wanted to do this year, and he said that played a part in his decision to return to Columbia for the 2023 season.
“I missed a couple games, and I think I owe it to myself 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 suffered 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 received high marks from Pro Football Focus for his pass coverage, as well.
Next season will be Bailey’s sixth and final year of college football. He made eight starts in 2021, becoming a starter halfway through the season and helping stabilize the Tigers' run defense.