COLUMBIA — Missouri couldn't do the impossible Saturday night at home against No. 2 Alabama.
The Tigers weren't even much of an impediment to the Crimson Tide, in any phase of the game, in a 38-19 loss to begin the Eli Drinkwitz era.
With major upsets happening around the country — No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 6 LSU lost at home — and No. 4 Georgia, No. 8 Texas and No. 10 Texas A&M surviving, Alabama took care of business at Faurot Field, leading 35-3 early in the second half.
"Proud of the fight our team showed at the end," Drinkwitz said. "But bottom line, we didn't play well enough on either side of the ball, or in special teams, to win the game tonight."
Missouri scored two touchdowns in the final 8:30 to make the final score more respectable for the 11,700 in attendance: The first, a 54-yard connection between starting quarterback Shawn Robinson and an uncovered Tyler Badie who broke out of the backfield on a wheel route and ran down the near sideline untouched; the second, a QB keeper from Connor Bazelak on fourth-and-goal from the 7-yard line as time expired.
The stories for the night was the stat line for Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle — eight catches, 134 yards, two scores — and a Missouri defense that allowed the Crimson Tide to convert on 9-of-14 third down attempts.
Robinson finished 19-of-25 for 185 yards, a touchdown and a fumble in his Missouri debut, and generally looked competent against a perennial championship-level defense. But he was sacked three times and fumbled by tossing a bad option pitch with pressure in his face.
"Got to do better," Robinson said. "Decision-making, just got to eliminate bone-head plays and be smart with the ball and don't beat ourselves."
Bazelak led two drives as the backup, completing 7-of-14 passes for 85 yards, and had three carries for 12 yards and a touchdown.
Jalen Knox and Damon Hazelton both had five catches to pace the Tigers receiving corps, Knox gaining 63 yards mostly from the slot and using a healthy dose of pre-snap motion, and Hazelton for 34 yards as fellow grad transfer Keke Chism was shadowed and kept quiet by Alabama corner Patrick Surtain II. Barrett Banister had three catches for 27 yards, including a 12-yard gain on fourth-and-4, but also fumbled a punt.
"Both quarterbacks did some really good things, but they've got to eliminate the negative plays in order for us to be successful offensively," Drinkwitz said.
Larry Rountree III was also a bright spot for the Tigers, finishing with 67 yards on 14 carries and running hard against a stout Alabama defense. He lowered his shoulder to shrug off a third-quarter tackle from Dylan Moses, the Tide's all-SEC linebacker five inches and 20 pounds bigger than the senior running back, and came out of the collision on top as the two exchanged words.
Unsurprisingly, Missouri scored on its three drives longer than 10 plays. A 12-play, 50-yard drive in the second quarter ended in a 17-yard field goal from true freshman kicker Harrison Mevis, and an 18-play, 55-yard drive also resulted points from Mevis. The second drive included a 12-yard completion to Barrett Banister on fourth-and-4, and the Tigers had a first-and-goal from the Alabama 8-yard line, but a 16-yard sack on third down by LaBryan Ray ended dreams of a touchdown.
The drive Bazelak's led to close out the game went 75 yards in 14 plays while taking just 2:05, a good look at what Drinkwitz's variable tempo offense can do.
Missouri hits the road to face No. 16 Tennessee at 11 a.m. next Saturday on SEC Network. The Volunteers opened the season with a 31-27 win Saturday at South Carolina.
Charlie Harbison, associate head coach and defensive backs coach, was not at the game.
Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel was first to report Saturday morning Harbison and Alabama safeties coach Charles Kelly would miss the game. Missouri later confirmed Harbison's absence was "COVID-related" and the Tigers called up defensive control analyst Grant O'Brien to coach from the booth instead.
Because of the SEC's mandated coronavirus policies, Harbison must isolate from the team for 14 days and will miss next Saturday's game at Tennessee.
"I got a text at 6:34 Friday morning alerting me that we had some positive tests from the COVID (testing) on Thursday," Drinkwitz said. "So we immediately made phone calls to all the positives and then began our contact tracing."
Drinkwitz said because of the uncertain and asymptomatic nature of coronavirus, he had no idea if Harbison's absence was a harbinger for larger issues within the program of potential cases.
"I don't know," he said. "With COVID, you don't know. We take another test (today), I'll get the results sometime Monday, we'll make an adjustment there. We take another test Tuesday, we get the results Wednesday, I'll make another adjustment there. We take a test Thursday, I'll get the results Friday morning at 6:34 and I'll make another adjustment there."
Missouri had seven players miss Saturday's game because of coronavirus quarantine, but none of them were starters on the depth chart. The Tigers also announced at kickoff defensive back Chris Shearin had elected to opt out of the season, the team's sixth opt-out.