Let’s get this out of the way: No, this isn’t the start any of us expected. Missouri comes out of its bye week with a record of 3-4. Three of the four “swing games” on the schedule were Kentucky, Boston College and Tennessee. The first two resulted in one-score losses on the road. The third resulted in one of the most humiliating home losses in program history.
The three wins on the season came against Cengral Michigan, SEMO and North Texas.
So, yeah. Not great. Certainly not what we were hoping for or expecting. And, aside from this weekend’s matchup against Vanderbilt, it doesn’t get a whole lot easier from here. The Tigers still have to travel to Georgia and Arkansas with another date against Florida. At least South Carolina’s on the schedule.
A bowl game seems out of reach. My focus for this season has shifted to what the current players mean for the future of the program.
With that in mind, I could be worth some time to check in on where some of the individual performers and the team as a whole stand as we come out of the bye week.
Quarterback: Connor Bazelak has his work cut out for him
- Connor Bazelak vs. FBS opponents: 163-for-244 (67%), 1,574 yards (6.4 yards per attempt), 9 TD, 7 INT, 127 QB Rating
- Bazelak’s current 12-game pace: 314/468 (67%), 3,278 yards, 21 TD, 12 INT
Bazelak’s season can be categorized pretty easily: he’s been very good against non-conference opponents, and pretty dreadful against SEC opponents. Bazelak has thrown for eight touchdowns and two interceptions on 7.9 yards per attempt against non-conference opponents. That’s quite good! But those numbers drop to four touchdowns and five interceptions on just 6.1 yards per attempt against conference foes.
"We've got a lot of confidence in Connor, but we also understand there's competition," Eliah Drinkwitz said of starting QB Connor Bazelak.— Calum (@C_McAndrew95) October 26, 2021
Bazelak’s season has been frustrating. There have certainly been areas of improvement - for example, he is attempting the deep ball more often - but there have also seemingly been areas of regression. The turnovers are a problem, and they’ve really piled up in recent weeks. He’s thrown six interceptions in the Tigers’ last four games. This team’s margin for error is far too thin to overcome that kind of interception rate.
Other than the interceptions, Bazelak’s performance this season has mostly gone as expected. He’s a high completion, low yards per attempt quarterback. You mostly know what you’re getting with Bazelak. He’s going to manage the game.
The numbers tell the story. Since 2000, there have been 22 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 200 passes in an individual season. When you compare Bazelak’s current 12-game pace against them, he ranks:
- 4th in completion percentage (Behind 2007 & 2008 Daniel, 2020 Bazelak)
- 8th in passing yards (2006/2007/2008 Daniel, 2009 Gabbert & 2016/2017/2018 Lock)
- T9th in TD passes (2006/2007/2008 Daniel, 2009 Gabbert, 2014 Mauk & 2016/2017/2018 Lock)
- 10th in QB Rating (2006/2007/2008 Daniel, 2009 Gabbert, 2011/2013 Franklin, 2017/2018 Lock & 2019 Bryant)
When you account for the value Brad Smith brought with his legs, Bazelak’s season ranks in line with Kelly Bryant in 2019, James Franklin’s injury-plagued 2012 season and slightly ahead of Kirk Farmer’s 2001 campaign.
The Tigers could use an upgrade a the position, whether that come by virtue of a boost in performance from Bazelak or a boost in talent from Brady Cook, Tyler Macon or Sam Horn.
Running Back: Tyler Badie is off to a historically great start
Tyler Badie through 7 games:
- 126 carries for 735 rushing yards (5.8 yards per attempt), 9 rushing TD
- 32 receptions for 265 receiving yards, 4 receiving TD
Tyler Badie current 12-game pace:
- 216 carries, 1,260 rushing yards, 15 rushing TD
- 55 receptions for 455 receiving yards, 7 receiving TD
I know the season hasn’t gone according to plan, but I hope you’ve enjoyed the heck out of this Tyler Badie season. What he’s doing is historically great by just about any measure.
He’s currently on pace to finish with the most rushing yards in a single season by a Missouri running back in the last 20 years. He’s on pace to become the first Mizzou non-quarterback to account for at least 20 offensive touchdowns in a single season in the last 20 years. And he’s on pace to become the first Missouri running back to rush for at least 1,000 yards and haul in at least 400 receiving yards in a single season in at least the last two decades.
We knew Badie was capable of special things if he was trusted with a full workload. He’s been every bit as productive as anyone could have hoped.
Wide Receiver: The kids are starting to emerge
- Tauskie Dove: 22 receptions for 329 yards
- Keke Chism: 25 receptions for 288 yards, 1 TD
- Chance Luper: 21 receptions for 203 yards, 1 TD
- JJ Hester: 8 receptions for 184 yards, 2 TD
- Dominic Lovett: 20 receptions for 169 yards and 3 rushing attempts for 25 yards & 1 TD
- Mookie Cooper: 14 receptions for 122 yards and 7 rush attempts for 11 yards
Missouri is an equal opportunity passing offense this season. Five different players have at least 20 receptions on the season and eight have at least 100 yards through the air.
It’s been a bit of an up-and-down season at the wide receiver position. Keke Chism and Tauskie Dove have been the steadying presence at the position, but it’s been encouraging to see JJ Hester and Chance Luper, in particular, make the most of their opportunities. Hester saw his first opportunities come in week three against SEMO and he hasn’t looked back since. He and Boo Smith are the Tigers’ best deep threats right now, but they go about it in different ways. Smith has caught four passes on the season and I’m pretty confident all four were on “go” routes. Hester’s eight receptions have come at different areas on the field. He’s someone the Tigers can and should build around moving forward
Unfortunately, things just haven’t clicked yet for Dominic Lovett or Mookie Cooper. It’ll get there. Cooper has been hurt and Lovett is a freshman who needs some time to adjust to the college game. It hasn’t been the year fans hoped from those two, but there’s no reason to get too down on them this early into their Mizzou careers.
The Offense: Right in the middle of the pack in the SEC
The Tigers’ offense has been... fine. It hasn’t been great. The turnovers have been problematic. But, on the whole, it’s been good enough to win more games than we’ve seen. Unfortunately, it’s paired with the worst defense I’ve seen in my time watching Mizzou football.
The Tigers are right smack dab in the middle of the SEC in points per game (8th), yards per game (9th), 3rd down conversion rate (5th) and sacks allowed (5th) against FBS opponents.
A few areas that could use some improvement include tackles for loss allowed (14th), explosive pass plays (14th) and red zone opportunities (12th).
Despite the Tigers’ few opportunities in the red zone, they’re actually first in converting those opportunities into touchdowns (79 percent). The problem isn’t so much punching it in as it is getting inside the 20-yard line.
Going against Vanderbilt on Saturday should help in some of these areas. The Commodores’ defense isn’t as bad as Missouri’s, but it’s pretty darn bad. Vanderbilt is the lone SEC team to allow more explosive plays against them than Misouri has.
It would be in Mizzou’s best interest to put up some big offensive numbers this week. It’s going to be a little more difficult to do so the following week at Georgia. Gulp.