Blum: Immediate change should be on the horizon for Mizzou football's defense

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune

Missouri's defense hadn't given up 60 points or more in five years. That was also to Tennessee in 2016. 

MU hadn't been defeated by 38 points or more since the 2008 Big 12 Conference Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, a 62-21 drubbing at the hands of Oklahoma.

The Volunteers matched the Sooners' production from that game, nearly 13 years ago, with a 62-24 blowout of Missouri on Saturday. Tennessee scored four first-quarter touchdowns and kept pushing for more points with virtually no response from the Tigers.

Tennessee's punters never saw the field. The Volunteers' first nine drives all ended with points (seven touchdowns and two field goals), before Missouri's only defensive stop of the day, a goal-line stand that plugged UT one yard from another touchdown. 

Instant Analysis:What we learned in Mizzou football's 62-24 loss to Tennessee

The Volunteers' final drive of the day also ended in the end zone, the unfortunate exclamation point to an offensive performance at Missouri's dismal expense. 

Tennessee running back Tiyon Evans (8) celebrates after scoring at touchdown against Missouri defensive back Allie Green IV (24) during the first half Saturday at Faurot Field.

Missouri gave up 677 yards of total offense, only 73 yards shy of the program's all-time worst, against Oklahoma in 1986.

After five games, Missouri is 2-3, needing four wins from its final seven games to make a bowl game. Four of the Tigers' remaining games are against teams ranked in the top 15 of the latest Associated Press poll. 

"To say I'm disappointed is an understatement," Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said. "It's my responsibility to have this team prepared to represent this university in the right way, and I didn't do my job today. We'll go back to work tomorrow to get it corrected. This was uncharacteristic of this football team. This football team is a team that fights and we didn't. We weren't ready today, and that's on me as a head football coach.

"... We've got a long way to go. But it starts with me, and it starts with me doing everything I can to make sure that we make forward progress. We didn't do that today. We took a step back today, but it doesn't have to define us. We keep moving forward. That's what we're gonna do now."

Post-game:'I didn't do my job today': What Mizzou coach Eli Drinkwitz said after losing to Tennessee

The Missouri defense has put together a quintet of questionable performances, ranging from giving up 28 points in the second half to an FCS team to its most recent lapse, giving up 452 rushing yards to Tennessee. 

Let's not pretend that Missouri faced five Orlando Pace-caliber offensive linemen Saturday. Or that Barry Sanders carved up the Tigers' defense. 

Tennessee's offense is flourishing under former MU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. But even the Volunteers' head coach admitted his team is still in the beginning stages of developing its identity. 

Tennessee running back Len'Neth Whitehead (27) runs the ball during a game against Missouri on Saturday Faurot Field.

So why did Missouri's defense leak so many big plays and yards to a Tennessee team thought to be average coming into the game? That's for Drinkwitz to address. 

Drastic change needs to be made soon. Now almost appears to be the best time. Does that mean Missouri defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, despite his pedigree, doesn't make it to Monday employed in Columbia? 

Drinkwitz answered that question — sort of — in his postgame news conference. 

"I just stepped off the football field," Drinkwitz said of a possible change. "I haven't even considered anything like that. So I have no comment or anything like that."

That's not exactly a vote of confidence for Wilks, whom Drinkwitz hired in January to replace the departed Ryan Walters, now the defensive coordinator at Illinois.

If Wilks is going to be fired from his post, it's most sensible to happen either in the next 48 hours or not until the end of the season.

Drinkwitz could decide to part from Wilks before the Tigers play North Texas next Saturday. The Mean Green have yet to beat an FBS team this year and are 1-3 overall. This way, Missouri would have two weeks of practices to install changes to its defense before resuming Southeastern Conference play against Texas A&M on Oct. 16.

More:Mizzou football fans loathe Steve Wilks' defense vs. Tennessee: 'I'm officially hitting the panic button'

Evaluating Wilks through the end of the season, however, would give Drinkwitz time to allow his first coordinator hire in Columbia every chance he can to clean up this mess. 

"I don't really think we're shocked," Missouri defensive back Kris Abrams-Draine said. "We just didn't execute."

More time would also give Drinkwitz more ammunition to make Wilks take the brunt of frustration from Missouri fans on the way out the door. It's a move that should only work once, but if nothing else, could revitalize interest in year No. 3 for Drinkwitz.  

It's an unfortunate discussion to have for Wilks, a former NFL coach who embarked on this opportunity after a year out of coaching.

But it's also clear Drinkwitz has to find an answer for the defensive woes immediately. Every bit of safety net presented within the first block of Missouri's schedule is now gone. 

The Tigers have to figure out how to capitalize on what's still in front of them. 

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

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