The ESPN broadcast crew was confused.

Why wouldn’t Mizzou coach Eli Drinkwitz use 1 of his 2 timeouts? Why wouldn’t he want to save some clock for when LSU inevitably scored, they wondered.

Indeed, LSU had the ball at the goal line with time running out in the 4th quarter, trailing 45-41. LSU had 4 tries to get what would be the game-winning touchdown.

Drinkwitz didn’t flinch.

First-down run. Stuffed. Clock running.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Second-down run. Stuffed again.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Still no timeout.

Third-down pass attempt. Nearly picked off by a banged-up Nick Bolton.

Fourth down. Final try for LSU. A play designed to go to Terrace Marshall Jr., who looked like Randy Moss all day long and was virtually unguardable.

Joshuah Bledsoe came through, diving in front of Marshall to bat the pass to the ground. One QB sneak later and the celebration was on in Columbia.

Drinkwitz trusted his players, trusted his defenders to do their jobs. And, they did. He needed them to make 4 big plays in a row. They did.

It must have been tempting for an offensive-minded coach like Drinkwitz to consider allowing LSU to score the quick touchdown to get the ball back with 2 timeouts and time left on the clock.

But he kept his defense out there. Why not? The unit had held LSU to 0-for-9 on 3rd downs up to that point.

The players clearly rallied behind that decision and made 4 huge plays for their head coach. DC Ryan Walters also deserves a ton of credit for dialing up plays that stymied the LSU offense.

Look, let’s not get this mixed up. This wasn’t a great day for the Mizzou defense. Here are a couple of eye-popping stat lines from LSU players:

  • QB Myles Brennan: 29-for-48, 430 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
  • WR Terrace Marshall Jr.: 11 catches, 235 yards, 3 touchdowns

Yeah, those guys absolutely torched the Mizzou defense all day. But when you hold your opponent to 0-for-10 on 3rd downs and make 4 consecutive stops at the goal line to seal a victory, you’re doing something right, at least.

The important thing for Drinkwitz moving forward is that his confidence in his players is going to pay off big time. These are guys who are excited for their coach and are playing hard for him.

Just look at this postgame locker room. This is what fun looks like, in case Mizzou fans had forgotten:

Drinkwitz has injected some life into the Mizzou program that was lacking the past couple of years. I’m not blaming Barry Odom for everything, as the ridiculous NCAA sanctions cast a dark cloud over the Tigers for all of 2019.

However, recruiting is already up under Drinkwitz. Mizzou’s classes have finished 13th in the SEC every year since 2015, and has finished 37th or lower nationally in each of those seasons. There’s still a long way to go in the 2021 cycle, but Mizzou has the No. 28 class in the nation and the No. 9 class in the SEC, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

Yes, many other SEC schools will laugh at Mizzou for being excited about a recruiting class like that, but if the Tigers finish in the top 10 in the SEC with their 2021 class, that’s an incredible step forward.

Drinkwitz is saying all the right things, as he’s quickly become one of the best quotes in the SEC. He is also doing all the right things on the field, trusting his players and pushing the right buttons to pick up the win over LSU.

This weekend, the Tigers host Vanderbilt, a team that is 0-3 and hasn’t shown much life on offense. This is the sort of game Odom’s teams would lose right when momentum was building. Heck, just last year, the Tigers lost in Nashville, bringing a 5-game winning streak to a screeching halt.

Thus, this is an early barometer for Drinkwitz. Win a game you’re supposed to win and the program will continue to move forward. Lose, and Mizzou fans will feel the familiar sting of a crushingly bizarre loss.

With a leader like Nick Bolton on defense and perhaps the quarterback of the future in Connor Bazelak on offense, Drinkwitz has plenty of reasons for optimism. Now, we just have to sit back and watch to see how many wins these Tigers can pile up this season.