Mizzou football's week-long message of accountability takes center stage against SEMO

Chris Kwiecinski
Columbia Daily Tribune

Minutes after the loss to Kentucky is when it all started. Missouri offensive lineman Case Cook was asked about in-game adjustments made in the trenches.

In his answer, he ended up taking the loss upon himself.

"I take responsibility," Cook said. "Personally, I think I've got to do a better job coming out at the beginning of the game, and we've got to do a better job as a unit on offense."

Of course, it's not entirely on one offensive lineman. Cook didn't play both ways, nor did he do anything to single-handedly give Kentucky an upper hand. But, that sentiment from Cook became consistent.

Missouri players and coaches taking accountability for last Saturday's loss to the Wildcats has been a consistent message this week leading up to Saturday's game against Southeast Missouri State. It started with Cook last Saturday and continued Tuesday higher up the chain of command. 

Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks personally apologized during his media session Tuesday, after Missouri's defense gave up 340 rushing yards and 7.4 yards per play.

"It wasn’t to our standard, not even close," Wilks said. "I’ve got to do a much better job of putting these guys in position to be successful. We got off to a slow start again.

"My fault."

Wilks apologized for how Kentucky gashed the Tigers' run defense, calling out very specific plays. One of those plays was a 64-yard run by the Wildcats' Wan’Dale Robinson, who took a jet sweep around the left end.

Wilks said miscommunication led to the wrong personnel group being on the field. Instead of the normal speed on the field, Missouri had five defensive linemen.

More:On the Beat with SEMO: Diagnosing Mizzou football's in-state competition for Week 3

Once Robinson got around those five, there wasn't speed at the second level to catch him until he had already pulled off a massive gain. JC Carlies and Ennis Rakestraw did, but that drive ended in a touchdown.

"I’ve got to coach better,” Wilks said. “We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to execute."

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis (7) is tackled during a game against Missouri last Saturday.

While the defense aims to rebound, the offense is trying to pick itself up after having one more chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter before Kentucky forced the Tigers to turn the ball over on downs. 

So far, the offense has taken its own accountability and put it back on the field this week.

Speaking to the media Wednesday, quarterback Connor Bazelak said he saw in the past few days of practice how the team has shown determination to be better.

"That has shown in practice the past couple days," Bazelak said. "I think that loss really hurt a lot of the guys. Just the way we fought and battled, it feels like we should've won."

Bazelak said he went around the locker room after the loss and told his offensive teammates how proud he was of them for never giving up, even as Kentucky was a play away from making the game 28-7 and potentially turning it into a blowout.

More:Mizzou's Eli Drinkwitz dissects performance against Kentucky as Tigers regroup

The biggest thing, Bazelak said, is for the team to move on. He said the coaching staff told the players this game against SEMO holds extra significance coming off last week's loss.

"We can't let that loss turn into two losses," Bazelak said.

Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak (8) throws a pass during the first half against Kentucky.

Coaches and players taking that accountability on themselves can lead to change in a myriad of ways.

Some of that change may be behind closed doors, how the captains approach their leadership or how schemes are taught to the players. Others are more physical, like the change Wilks is personally seeing to.

Wilks said Tuesday he is moving from the sideline up to coaches’ booth against SEMO, which will give him an aerial view of the defensive alignments where he can see more developments as they come during the game.

More:Did adjustments to the run defense help? Our grades after Missouri's loss to Kentucky

He coached from the booth when he was the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers in 2017.

“It somewhat takes the noise out of the game," Wilks said. "You can really focus on the next play."

That focus will be key in a game against a much lesser opponent. 

SEMO isn't a ranked FCS team, and is coming off two lopsided losses to top-10 FCS programs. The Redhawks have everything to gain and nothing to lose, whereas MU has everything to lose with very little to gain.

That's why Bazelak is making sure his offense won't overlook SEMO. That accountability will be on display when the quarterback takes the field Saturday.

"We can't let our talent get in the way," Bazelak said. "We've got to go into that game like they're an SEC team with the same amount of talent."

Chris Kwiecinski is the sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune, overseeing University of Missouri and Boone County sports coverage. Follow him on Twitter @OchoK_ and contact him at CKwiecinsk@gannett.com or 435-414-3261.