We’re about to wrap up our first week of fall football camp after weeks of wondering whether we’d even make it this far and... so far so good? COVID-19 clusters on campus notwithstanding, everything has gone relatively smoothly over the first week. Let’s hope it stays that way.
As we continue to preview Missouri’s roster ahead of the September 26 opening kickoff, we’re doing a little “kick off” of our own by starting our annual series of preseason roundtables. Today, we’re looking at quarterbacks and running backs, answering the burning questions you’ve (probably) been asking.
For the first time in what feels like forever, Mizzou has a legitimate QB battle on its hands headed into camp - but there does seem to be a legitimate favorite. Are you buying that Shawn Robinson has the upper-hand to be the next Tiger under center?
Nate Edwards, Football Editor: I do think Robinson has the upper-hand here, what with his experience as a starting QB at a P5 school and his familiarity with Coach Curtis Luper. But, as I mentioned in my QB preview piece, I don’t think this is a year where we have just one guy taking starting snaps, and I would say that even if we weren’t in the middle of our COVID pandemic. Coach Drinkwitz and his offensive staff have experience with different types of QBs and Missouri has, essentially, one of every type, so through a feeling-out process I think we could see any of them play.
For long-term lofty-projectibility based off of wild speculation, however: start Robinson this year and then in 2021 as well, when Tyler Macon is on the roster. Have Macon have a few starts in ‘21 while Robinson does the heavy lifting. Macon preserves a redshirt and is ready for 3-4 years of domination in 2022 on.
But it’s never as simple as that.
Brandon Kiley, Lead Football Writer: I think that’s the right way to look at this, yeah. But most of that is just assumption. He’s older, has more experience and brings one clear advantage to the table: His legs.
But that doesn’t mean this thing is over. Eli Drinkwitz has worked with a wide array of quarterbacks in his career. Drinkwitz got his first shot as a co-offensive coordinator in 2013 at Arkansas State. He had a bit of a dual-threat QB in grad transfer Adam Kennedy that season.
In his only year as the offensive coordinator at Boise State, he started the year going with sophomore Ryan Finley, but after Finley got hurt three games in, he gave true freshman Brett Rypien the keys to the car. Both were the opposite of dual-threat quarterbacks. Finley followed Drinkwitz to NC State the following year, and started the next three years with Drink as the offensive coordinator.
In Drinkwitz’s lone season as the head coach at Appalachian State, he had a legitimate dual-threat option in junior Zac Thomas.
As you can see, there aren’t many tells in that history to indicate which direction Drinkwitz will go. He’s gone with young guys, he’s gone with older guys. He’s built an offense around dual-threats and he’s built an offense around statues in the pocket.
When Drinkwitz says he’ll go with the best man, I believe him. We have no reason to believe otherwise, and his history suggests he’s not going to force a square peg into a round hole.
Jacob Giancola, Lead Football Beat Writer: With Kelly Bryant no longer in the picture, it would seem as though the job is Shawn Robinson’s to lose. A four-star recruit out of high school, Robinson has more than a few notable achievements, including the 2016-2017 Gatorade Player of the Year. The ex-TCU quarterback has a plethora of experience and has played in big time games against schools such as Ohio State and Texas Tech. With the amount of exposure to the game that Robinson has, it would certainly be a surprise not to see him under center week one.
However, the one thing Drink has repeated consistently in live media conferences is that he wants to keep the identity of his QB1 a secret in order to not give anything away. Could that mean Drink plans on starting Bazelak in the first half week one to disrupt the defensive scheme of Alabama? We’ll find out.
Even if Robinson gets the call, the Tigers have some depth and experience to play with at the QB position. Who has the best chance at grabbing the back-up position?
Nate Edwards: I would like for it to be Connor Bazelak since that would mean the youngster has shown enough to surpass the seasoned-backup Taylor Powell. And I do believe that Bazelak’s upside is higher than Powell’s so I’ll lean to Bazelak. If Brady Cook is awesome enough to avoid a redshirt and be the #2 guy right out of the gate? Awesome. But I can’t imagine that would happen.
Brandon Kiley: I think I’m ready to put all my eggs in the Connor Bazelak box as the 1B to Shawn Robinson. The sample size is admittedly as small as can be, but he looked solid last year in his limited action. He has the pedigree. We know he can sling it. It’s really a question about health. Is he fully recovered from his torn ACL in the Arkansas game? It’s only been nine months. That’s a pretty quick recovery, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented.
Jacob Giancola: As far as a backup quarterback goes, that title will most likely belong to Connor Bazelak. There are some concerns on whether Bazelak is fully recovered after tearing his ACL from last year. There is certainly potential in Bazelak, though it looks like he’ll be waiting to unleash it from the sideline.
Mizzou returns some serious experience at the running back position, with both Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie still in the fold. Does their dynamic change at all under a new head coach?
Nate Edwards: I would like to think that their dynamic changes in that Badie gets used more frequently as a utility guy that can play out of either the backfield or the slot. Rountree, while having excellent catch rates, should be used more to soften up the middle of the defense and break out the occasional explosive run. Badie got the yardage needed a little better than Rountree but was much more effective catching swing passes and screens and working outside the hashes. I hope that Drinkwitz can get more creative utilizing those two, hopefully while on the field at the same time.
Brandon Kiley: I think it will change some, absolutely. How could it not? My piece from early today details how Drinkwitz has a fascinating history with running backs. He comes from the Gus Malzahn coaching tree, so that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Drinkwitz has utilized a running back by committee approach for much of his history. He only has one season as a HC/OC in which multiple running backs didn’t finish the year with 100+ carries. He’s also no stranger to utilizing his backs in the passing game.
I fully expect to see some two-back formations, and I think we’ll see plenty of Badie in the passing game. If you have some time, watch some clips showing how Drinkwitz utilized Jaylen Samuels at NC State. They’re different players with very different bodies, but the creativity Drinkwitz showed goes a long way in depicting how Drinkwitz could also use Badie at Mizzou.
Jacob Giancola: The Tiger backfield this year will look similar to years prior with Rountree and Badie exchanging snaps, however the dynamic could be completely turned 180 degrees with Drinkwitz’s new offensive gameplan. Drinkwitz needs no introduction when it comes to fast-paced, high-powered offenses, so everyone should expect to see at least a couple big shots week one. Expect to see Roundtree mounting the role of a lead back, with Badie as a bit of a wildcard, playing more of a utility position in the slot or in motion. One thing’s for sure though — if it’s 3rd and goal from the 1 yard line, give the ball to Larry and let him go to work.
Even with Rountree and Badie back, you can never have too many weapons coming out of the backfield. Do any of Mizzou’s other backs have a chance at breakout seasons in 2020?
Nate Edwards: Ignoring the fact that COVID will probably press all of these guys into service at some point... unless Simi Bakare makes some massive leaps in skill I find it hard to see him cracking the rotation; he’s similar to Rountree in build, but hasn’t shown the strength of Larry or speed of Badie. Dawson Downing is a burlier Rountree and will be good for third-and-short packages. Elijah Young should get every shot possible at seeing the field if his high school tape (and peer reviews) are any indication of what he can do against SEC defenses. Expect to see all these guys on the field at some point but if I’m ranking them by usage rate/carries given I’d want to see:
- 40%: Rountree
- 20% Badie (counting only carries, not the passes I’d like to see more of)
- 20%: Young
- 10%: Downing
- 10%: Bakare
Brandon Kiley: We’ve said his name frequently, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Elijah Young. He’s the answer here. He’s the exact type of runner we’ve seen have success under Drinkwitz in the past. He’s talented as hell, and Drinkwitz has already singled him out as a player ready for success. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Young skip the redshirt and get some playing time this year as the #3 back before taking over in 2021 as the starter.
Jacob Giancola: A potential dark horse candidate in the backfield this year is true freshman Elijah Young. The Tennessee native is only going to be a freshman but if his 43 touchdowns and plus 2,000 yards from his senior year of high school translates at all in college, we could be witnessing a star in the making. Fingers crossed.