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Mizzou End-of-Season Report Card: The Coaches

The season has come and gone. How did the Tigers’ coaching staff and special teams perform? It’s time for BK’s end-of-season report card.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Head Coach: Eli Drinkwitz - A

NCAA Football: Missouri at Tennessee Knoxville News-Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

The Grade: A

The Stat: Missouri improved in every major offensive statistical category from 2019 to 2020.

The Analysis: Eli Drinkwitz was brought in to do three main things: to energize the fanbase, to kickstart recruiting and to improve the offense. Check, check and check.

The Tigers’ offense was abysmal in 2019. I still don’t entirely understand why that was the case. The two offensive linemen who left are now on NFL rosters. Albert Okwuegbunam was as talented as any tight end in the country last year. Kelly Bryant wasn’t as bad as he looked in the last portion of the season, and it’s not like Connor Bazelak came out of nowhere. He was available last season; the coaching staff chose not to use him.

Mizzou Offense 2020 vs. 2019

Conference Only Statistics: 2020 2019
Conference Only Statistics: 2020 2019
Points Per Game 26.7 17.9
Rushing Yards Per Game 135.2 131.25
Passing Yards Per Game 266.8 197.3
Total Yards Per Play 5.6 4.7
TFL Allowed Per Game 5.6 6.4
Sacks Allowed Per Game 1.6 2.5
Third Down Conversion Rate 43% 35%
Red Zone TD Percentage 59% 42%

Whatever. That’s over and done with. Drinkwitz did what he needed to do with the offense. He brought in grad transfers to improve the Tigers’ pass catchers. He brought in Michael Maetti to solidify the interior of the offensive line. He made a strong decision by the second week of the season to go with Bazelak as his starting quarterback. The offense centered around its best player, Larry Rountree III.

He also brought some much needed creativity to the offense. Screens, pre-snap motions and a trick play or two were staples of Missouri’s offense this year. It was refreshing to watch, given what we the last couple years.

The only thing keeping Drinkwitz from an A+ is the way Missouri finished the season. The defense was really, really bad down the stretch. I know that’s not his focus, but it’s worth noting. That’s nit-picking, though. Drinkwitz was everything Missouri fans could hope for and then some. Through one calendar year, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could view Drink as anything other than a home run hire for the Tigers.

Defensive Coordinator: Ryan Walters - C

ryan walters Photo via twitter.com/Coach_Walters

The Grade: C

The Stat: The only power five team to allow opponents to score a touchdown in the red zone at a higher rate than Missouri was Washington State.

The Analysis: Let’s start with the disclaimers. Missouri’s defense was short-handed nearly the entire season. Kobie Whiteside was never healthy. Opt-outs, COVID-19 issues and injuries decimated the secondary, especially at cornerback. Nick Bolton wasn’t healthy down the stretch. Trajan Jeffcoat was the Tigers’ only real pass rush presence on the edge. There was a lot for this unit to overcome.

Also, Missouri was quite good defensively on third downs. The Tigers finished fourth in the SEC allowing conversions on just 38 percent of opponents third down tries.

Now for the bad part. The Tigers were not good at just about anything else defensively. Missouri finished in the bottom five in the SEC in yards per play allowed. When opponents got into the red zone, they scored a touchdown 81 percent of the time. Ole Miss allowed the second worst rate in the conference at 70 percent. The gap between Missouri and Ole Miss is the same as the gap between Ole Miss and LSU. LSU had the third best red zone defense in the conference. Yeah, that’s pretty bad.

It’s also a good thing the Tigers were so good at getting off the field on third down, because they weren’t forcing many turnovers. Missouri’s nine takeaways were tied with Vanderbilt for the fewest in the SEC.

It was a rough year defensively, but Walters didn’t have a full deck to work with. The third down defense helped Mizzou avoid worse numbers overall, and that’s a credit in part to Walters’ ability to scheme things up. Things won’t get much easier next year without Bolton, Joshuah Bledsoe or Tyree Gillespie. Here’s to hoping Walters is up to the task.

Special Teams Coordinator: Erik Link - A-

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Grade: A-

The Stat: Missouri had the highest kickoff touchback percentage (88%) in the country.

The Analysis: It really depends which portion of the special teams you’re grading to give Missouri an accurate rating. The return units wouldn’t get a passing grade, but the Tigers’ punt, kick and kickoff units were so good I have a hard time giving them anything other than an ‘A-.’

Harrison Mevis was a revelation, finishing the year making all 28 PAT’s and 17 of his 20 field goal attempts. Sean Koetting forced a touchback on 46 of his 52 kickoffs, the highest rate in the country. Grant McKinniss’ 43 yards per punt average won’t jump off the page, but the Tigers allowed just two yards per punt return. It also helped that only nine of Missouri’s 39 punts were returned at all this season.

In other words, Missouri’s kick and punt game was tremendous.

The return game, not so much. Missouri averaged just 16 yards per kick return, the second worst in the SEC. And the Tigers’ four yards per punt return was also the second worst in the conference. That’s to say nothing of the muffed punts and lost yardage on punts that should have been caught but weren’t.

Regardless, the good far outweighed the bad on special teams. Link’s unit was one of Missouri’s strengths, with most of the major players expected to return in 2021.