With Missouri facing second-and-6 on its own 48 in the second quarter, quarterback Connor Bazelak fired a short screen pass to Chance Luper on his right. The redshirt freshman wide receiver hauled in the ball and took off towards the end zone, evading a defender along the way for a 53-yard touchdown — the first score of his career.
When the Tigers faced third-and-13 deep into the following drive, another redshirt freshman made a big play. Wide receiver JJ Hester caught the ball from Bazelak for a 14-yard gain to extend the series to the Southeast Missouri State 34 — the first reception of his career.
The Missouri offense involved a lot of different faces in the passing game against the Redhawks, as 12 Tigers made receptions and six recorded at least 45 yards through the air in the 59-28 victory Saturday on Faurot Field.
Through the prior two contests, 10 Tigers had recorded a reception and six had notched at least 45 receiving yards on the season.
“I tease [quarterback and wide receivers coach] Bush [Hamden] all the time, it’s like he’s subbing in a hockey line with the wide receivers,” Mizzou coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. “It’s good to get a lot of people in there.”
Freshman Dominic Lovett was another young benefactor of the spread-out offensive distribution against the Redhawks.
On the first play of Mizzou’s second drive with 10:15 left in the first quarter, the wide receiver cut across the middle and found a hole in the defense, allowing Bazelak to hit him in stride. Lovett ran across the Tiger logo at midfield before eventually being taken down by a defender at the 46, good for a gain of 32 yards.
Though Bazelak only played one half of the blowout victory, the pass to Lovett was one of four chunk passing plays of over 30 yards while the redshirt sophomore quarterback was under center, and he had another four for at least 15 yards.
“That’s got to be a huge, huge advantage for us is pushing the ball down the field,” wide receiver Keke Chism said. “Especially going into SEC play, you got to be able to make the defense respect what you got going on down the field to open up the lanes for the running back and make it easier for those guys to have success. So I mean, I feel like we did a good job with that, executing, deep ball accuracy, making plays. It was just good to see.”
Many of those plays went to Lovett, who finished with a career-high 79 yards on four receptions. Hester also finished with 79 yards, as well as his first touchdown.
Mookie Cooper, another young newcomer, had a 46-yard reception towards the end of the first quarter, surpassing his total yardage for the season on a single play. The redshirt freshman transfer from Ohio State finished with 64 yards on four receptions.
“A lot of those guys don’t have a lot of experience. So just getting that chemistry in game is really important,” Bazelak said after the game. “Me and Keke [Chism] and Tauskie [Dove], Barrett [Bannister], we have that connection, we did it all last year. I thought it was good just to get those young guys in who didn’t really play last year with me and work on that stuff.”
The favorite target for Bazelak entering Saturday’s game wasn’t a receiver, however. Running back Tyler Badie led the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. No clear top receiver had emerged through two contests, and though that sentiment remained true through the third game, the experience gained by young receivers against SEMO should pay dividends for the Mizzou offense down the line.
“I thought it was really good and good for the future that we were able to get the ball to our young guys in space and kind of see what they can do,” Bazelak said. “They did a great job and we spread it around well.”