We’re officially one-third of the way through the 2019 Missouri football season. The Tigers have their fifth best point differential at this point in the season in the last 20 years. It’s also the fifth time in the last decade that Missouri has started the season 3-1 or better—the other years being 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015 (wut?) and 2018.
Four of those seasons turned out to be pretty darn memorable. Three were memorable for their, umm, positive results on the field.
As the team prepares for Troy coming out of its bye week, I thought this would be a good time to take a look back at where some individual performances rank through four games. All of the rankings are over the last 20 years, as that’s as far back as Sports Reference’s Play Index tool will reach.
QB - Kelly Bryant:
Completion Percentage (65%) - 7th (Smith ‘03, Daniel ‘08, Gabbert ‘09 & ‘10, Franklin ‘13)
Passing Yards Per Game (256) - 9th (Daniel ‘07 & ‘08, Gabbert ‘09 & ‘10, Franklin ‘13, Lock ‘16, ‘17, ‘18)
QB Rating (149.6) - 5th (Daniel ‘08, Gabbert ‘09, Franklin ‘13, Mauk ‘14, Lock ‘16 & ‘18)
Yards Per Attempt (8.1) - T-4th (Franklin ‘13, Lock ‘16 & ‘17)
Passing Touchdowns (8) - 10th (Daniel ‘06, ‘07 & ‘08, Gabbert ‘09, Franklin ‘13, Mauk ‘14, Lock ‘16, ‘17 & ‘18)
BK’s Analysis - If you missed it, Nate Edwards put together a great piece recently comparing Kelly Bryant to Missouri’s past great quarterbacks. His piece was part of what inspired me to look up some of these numbers. Bryant has been a more well-rounded quarterback than I think just about any reasonable fan could have expected this season. He’s been efficient, he’s had some explosive plays, and against South Carolina we finally started to see his value on the ground as well.
Has Bryant been Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert or Drew Lock from a pure passing production standpoint? Nah. But that was never the expectation. Nor should it have been. He’s putting up numbers on par with James Franklin during Franklin’s prime at Missouri, and that’s plenty for Missouri to have what could be a special season.
RB - Larry Rountree III:
Rushing Yards (375) - 6th (Brad Smith ‘02 & ‘05, Tony Temple ‘06, Henry Josey ‘11, Russell Hansbrough ‘14)
Rushing TDs (4) - T-6th (Zack Abron ‘02 & ‘03, Damien Nash ‘04, Brad Smith ‘05, Derrick Washington ‘08)
BK’s Analysis - Rountree got off to a slower start than expected against Wyoming, but he’s really come along in the last few weeks. He dominated against West Virginia and he was a steady blow against South Carolina.
We’ve seen Rountree get better as the season goes on in the past, and I would expect to see more of the same this year. It’s cliche, but I really do believe Rountree gets better as a game and a season wears on. It seems like as everyone around him is tired, he brings the same energy he had in the first quarter, or the first month of the season. There’s no doubt his punishing running style has a little something to do with that.
WR - Jalen Knox:
Yards Per Reception (20) - 7th (Min. 5 receptions - Justin Gage ‘00, Wes Kemp ‘09, L’Damian Washington ‘12, J’Mon Moore ‘17, Emanuel Hall ‘17 & ‘18)
BK’s Analysis - It’s been a bit of an uneven start to the season for Knox. The 20 yards per reception looks great on paper; it’s one of the most explosive starts to a year by any Missouri receiver in the last 20 years, but that’s really driven by a big game against SEMO. That counts in the stat book all the same, but I was expecting a little more consistency out of the sophomore receiver than we’ve seen thus far.
As the season goes on, I would like to see Knox get more involved. I still believe Knox is among the most reliable receiving options for Bryant.
TE - Albert Okwuegbunam:
Receiving Yards (157) - 8th among TE’s (Dwayne Blakley ‘00, Victor Sesay ‘04, Martin Rucker ‘05 & 07, Chase Coffman ‘07 & ‘08, Michael Egnew ‘10, Albert O ‘18)
Receiving TDs (4) - T-4th among all receivers (Jared Perry ‘09, Jimmie Hunt ‘14, J’Mon Moore ‘16)
BK’s Analysis - Albert O is putting up your typical Albert O season. He doesn’t always catch the ball, but when he does, it’s probably for a touchdown. I’m only partially kidding. 26 percent of Albert O’s career receptions have resulted in a touchdown.
He’s never going to be the type of chain-moving tight end that Coffman, Rucker or Egnew were in their prime at Missouri, but he’s among the most dominant red zone threats we’ve seen in college football in recent history. That certainly hasn’t changed in 2019.
One thing I’m really hoping to see is a healthy Albert O for the second half of the season. He’s clearly been hobbled to start the season. I’m not sure if the man ever gets a practice in. I have to imagine two weeks off did his body some good to heal up going into the Troy game.
DT - Kobie Whiteside:
Sacks (3) - T4th (Brian Smith ‘06, Markus Golden ‘14 & Shane Ray ‘14)
BK’s Analysis - This is the stat that surprised me most. Did you realize Whiteside was putting up one of the best starts by a Missouri sack artist in the last 20 years? I certainly didn’t.
Whiteside really came on in the South Carolina game in a big way. He finished with two sacks in that game, which matched his previous career totals from 2017 and 2018. I have no idea if this is a trend that can or will continue, but it would rank among the most pleasant surprises possible if Whiteside can provide consistent pressure from the interior.
LB - Cale Garrett:
Solo Tackles (25) - 3rd (Sean Weatherspoon ‘07 & Kentrell Brothers ‘15)
BK’s Analysis - What more is there to be said about Garrett? It’s so fitting for Spoon and Brothers to be the other linebackers with similar starts to a season for Missouri in the last 20 years. I’m not sure there’s another MU linebacker that deserves to be in the conversation with those three.
I covered Missouri on a day-to-day basis in 2015 when Brothers had his breakout season. It was eerily similar to what we’ve seen from Garrett this year. It felt as if Brothers knew where the play was going before the play actually developed. It was amazing. His coaches credited it to his unbelievable film preparation. Garrett is Brothers 2.0. He’s smart. He’s athletic. He’s instinctive. And we’re watching the culmination of all of those attributes coming together for one final season in a Missouri uniform. It’s been a pleasure to watch.