This is the "Topp Rope," a twice-weekly SEC football column from the USA TODAY Network's Blake Toppmeyer.
Auburn’s embattled coach Bryan Harsin needed a team to stand up and fight for his job.
With Auburn’s back pressed firmly against the wall, Missouri rallied to Harsin’s aid Saturday, bungling opportunities at every turn.
This wasn’t a case of Missouri snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory. No, victory had moved past the jaws and into the gullet, but Missouri purged it from its system like a toxin.
Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz claimed a starring role in this comedy.
MU’s defense delivered a fourth-down stop with less than two minutes remaining in a tie game after Harsin elected to go for a conversion rather than try a 46-yard field goal. Can’t blame Harsin for the aggressiveness, considering kicker Anders Carlson had missed from a similar distance earlier in the game.
College kickers, you know? Not to be trusted.
MISSOURI COACH EXPLAINS:Why go conservative at the end? Here's what Eliah Drinkwitz had to say
AUBURN COACH EXPLAINS:Why go for fourth down instead of a field goal? Here's what Bryan Harsin had to say
Missouri went on an impressive march after reclaiming possession, and it had first-and-goal from the 3-yard line with 50 seconds remaining after Dominic Lovett’s brilliant catch along the sideline.
That’s when Drinkwitz became more conservative than Newt Gingrich.
Drinkwitz became concerned that Auburn, which hadn’t scored since the first quarter, suddenly would unearth Tom Brady on its sideline. If Missouri scored a touchdown with time remaining, Drinkwitz thought, AU could use its lone timeout to its advantage and move downfield in a whirlwind for a game-tying touchdown.
But coaches who pursue a chess match often prove more suited for charades.
Rather than try to score a touchdown or advance toward the goal line, Drinkwitz ordered the retreat.
Brady Cook took a shotgun snap and kneeled in the middle of the field – backing up Missouri 5 yards farther from the goalposts in preparation for a field goal.
Auburn burned its final timeout, the chance for a Brady-fueled rebuttal now exhausted.
Next play, another kneel-down.
Cue All-America kicker Harrison Mevis for a 26-yard chip shot.
A gimme, right?
No such thing for college kickers.
Mevis put boot to ball and raised his hands to signal, “It’s good!”
The ball slid past the right upright.
Missouri wasn’t finished crafting Harsin’s escape hatch.
Carlson zinged a 44-yard field-goal attempt away from the goalposts and toward the sideline on AU’s overtime possession, but for the second time in the game, Missouri was offsides on a field goal.
Carlson proved pure from 39 yards.
[ WANT MORE OPINIONS FROM BLAKE TOPPMEYER?: Subscribe to the SEC Unfiltered newsletter for an exclusive column each week ]
I almost expected Drinkwitz to order a first-down field goal to send the game to a second overtime, but this time, he opted for six points rather than three.
Nathaniel Peat streaked for the end zone on Missouri’s second overtime play, but as he stretched for the goal line, the ball fell from his hand like a lead weight.
Auburn recovered in the end zone.
Few teams have stood taller for a besieged coached than Missouri did for Harsin.
And to think, he’ll be available for hire soon.
Coaching shenanigans, Part II
Florida would have had an opportunity for a game-tying field goal on its final possession Saturday if Billy Napier had elected for extra points after two fourth-quarter touchdowns instead of two-point conversion attempts, which failed.
But that wasn’t Napier’s only coaching decision that became costly in Tennessee’s 38-33 victory.
Tennessee faced a third-and-10 from its 12-yard line with the clock running and 1:33 left before halftime. Napier used Florida’s final timeout, hoping to force a punt with enough time to score.
He should have waited for the result of Tennessee’s third-down play before deciding to halt the clock, though. The Vols returned from the timeout throwing.
Hendon Hooker’s 10-yard completion moved the chains. Seven plays later, the Vols were in the end zone, with seven seconds left before the half.
HENDON HOOKER FOR HESIMAN?:How Tennessee's quarterback entered the hunt for top award
Another bad chess move.
Three and out
1. When Cam Little’s would-be winning field goal for Arkansas ricocheted off the top of the upright Saturday, my first thought was, “Huh, never seen that before.” However, Wyoming missed a field goal in identical fashion earlier this season. College kickers! Texas A&M beat Arkansas 23-21 despite being outgained and outplayed. The Aggies’ offense remains an eyesore, but Devon Achane makes it worth watching.
Cam Little kicks this an inch deeper or an inch to the left and Arkansas wins pic.twitter.com/QxdpnBVzac
— Collin Wilson (@_Collin1) September 25, 2022
2. The winner of Saturday’s No. 8 Kentucky at No. 11 Ole Miss clash of undefeateds should be considered a College Football Playoff contender. Each team’s schedule is relatively generous by SEC standards, and with no clear frontrunner for the No. 4 playoff spot, it’s reasonable to think UK or Ole Miss could backdoor its way in as a one-loss team. Kentucky will need star running back Chris Rodriguez’s return to elevate its slumbering ground game.
3. One month into the season, it’s too soon to have a serious Heisman debate, so I’ll offer my pecking order and revisit in a few weeks. I’m an all-quarterback ballot so far: 1. C.J. Stroud (Ohio State), 2. Hendon Hooker (Tennessee), 3. Stetson Bennett IV (Georgia), Honorable mentions: Bryce Young (Alabama), Michael Penix Jr. (Washington).
If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Also, check out his podcast, SEC Football Unfiltered, or access exclusive columns via the SEC Unfiltered newsletter.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Auburn's Bryan Harsin needed a savior. Insert Missouri's Eli Drinkwitz