I don’t want to write this piece. Before the season I was hopeful about what Connor Bazelak could accomplish for the Tigers this season. He showed so many signs as a freshman that he could be a player worth building around.
The regression has been tough to watch.
It’s not that Bazelak is significantly worse this year than he was a year ago. In fact, in some ways, it’s the opposite. He’s been, more or less, the same player against power five competition this year as he was a year ago. But the mistakes were so much easier to write off as a freshman. But they just keep happening as a sophomore. Eventually it’s hard to excuse those plays, especially when there is a legitimate alternative.
That’s where Missouri finds itself with two games to play. A struggling, not quite 100 percent Bazelak or an intriguing and completely healthy Brady Cook? Those are the options. I would love to see more of Tyler Macon. It’s just not an option, whether I like it or not. Tell me the rules and I’ll play the game. The rules to this choice are you only get to pick between the top two contenders. As such, that’s what I’ll do.
I’m choosing Cook.
This doesn't show up on the stat sheet, but Cook put this one in a bucket. Great deep shot down the near sideline to Keke Chism. Chism just couldn't come down with it. pic.twitter.com/ZdvWhMNa1D— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) November 19, 2021
I don’t know which direction the Tigers will go on Saturday against Florida. If I had to guess, I think we’ll see a combination of both with Bazelak getting one last chance as the starter. It would have been less up-in-the-air if not for Drinkwitz pulling Bazelak with four minutes to play against South Carolina to run the clock out. At that point, Cook gave the Tigers the best chance to win.
I think the same would be true against Florida and Arkansas.
I went back and re-watched every snap Cook has taken in a Missouri uniform against power five competition. It sounds like a massive undertaking, but it’s a pretty limited sample size.
Cook's first action came in garbage time last year against Virginia. He came in with the Tigers up 34-0 and 9 minutes to play. Threw a beautiful TD pass to Damon Hazelton down the far sideline. pic.twitter.com/i9okfBvnhQ— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) November 19, 2021
Cook played two drives last year against Vanderbilt. One resulted in a touchdown, the other drained out the clock to end the game. His other action last season came briefly against Georgia. He had just one drive, and it was more or less a wash. He completed a pass and then botched a shotgun snap and regulation came to a close.
He also, as previously mentioned, came in to close out the game last week against South Carolina. He had a critical 11-yard rush on second and 13 which helped extend the drive and win the game, but otherwise wasn’t asked to do much.
The real sample size for Cook came against Georgia. No pressure, kid, just the best defense in the country and one of the best defensive units we’ve seen in the last decade.
I loved this play from Cook. Flushed out of the pocket to his right, he extends the play and finds the open man down the field. pic.twitter.com/JJcX0OXoAc— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) November 19, 2021
All things considered, Cook performed admirably. He finished the game completing 14-of-19 passes for 78 yards. He added 32 rushing yards on 10 carries. It doesn’t sound like much. I mean, it really isn’t much. But it was a solid showing against such a dominant unit.
Bazelak and Cook share some similar qualities. They’re both cerebral quarterbacks who win with timing and accuracy. The quick game is their best friend. What Bazelak lacks is mobility, and that’s where Cook shines. His ability to extend plays allowed him on multiple occasions to find an open receiver down the field against Georgia.
Two qualities that immediately jump off the screen with Cook: Toughness & mobility. He's completely unafraid. He took some massive hits against Georgia. His wheels really show up in critical third and fourth down situations. pic.twitter.com/zMu1f5NCnv— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) November 19, 2021
More importantly, Cook’s speed actually becomes a weapon both in the zone read game and also on critical third and fourth down situations in which he’s able to take off and pick up a first down. He did so multiple times against Georgia and also flashed the wheels once again in a crucial spot against South Carolina.
I don’t know what Cook would look like as the full-time starter. Maybe an extended showing would result in more of the same from what we’ve seen out of Bazelak. I’m willing to take that risk. He brings many of the same positive qualities as the Tigers have received from Bazelak this season and adds the potential upside on the ground.
I don’t know who Eli Drinkwitz will go with on Saturday, but I know who I would choose. It’s Cook’s time. Now we get to find out if Drinkwitz agrees.