It was October 19th, mid-afternoon. 5-star WR prospect Luther Burden was set to announce his commitment between Mizzou, Georgia, and Alabama. There had been no more pursued recruit in the young Drinkwitz era than Burden, and the entire state of Missouri awaited what the East St. Louis product would decide.
After a suspenseful wait, Burden picked up the UGA and Bama hats, tossed them off the table, and chose the Tigers. It felt as if the program had just won an SEC title.
This was much-needed. As we all know, Missouri was 3-4 at this point coming off of a blowout loss to Texas A&M. They had yet to beat a Power 5 program, and the defense was among the worst in the nation defending the run. Bazelak was banged up, and Tyler Badie was having to do virtually everything for this team.
But somehow, the Burden commitment appeared to turn things around (or maybe it was just a bye week of rest). Regardless of the actual reason, momentum is a real thing, and it reared its head in the weeks following.
First there was a road trip to Nashville to see how bad this team truly was. After struggling early and allowing Vanderbilt QB Mike Wright to run at will, the Tigers pulled away late. In a must-win game, this team stayed afloat.
Mizzou went on the road to take on the number one team in the nation next. Georgia was almost guaranteed to blow out the visitors, but despite that still coming true, it was a mostly positive game for the Tigers.
The run defense played their best game of the season up to that point, holding UGA to less yards than any previous opponent they had played. It was a sign of life when nobody thought it would come.
On top of that, Brady Cook and Tyler Macon both got a chance to lead this team, and given the circumstances, they played exceptionally well. Macon gave the vaunted Bulldog defense problems with his legs, and Cook was effective throwing the ball, going 14/19 through the air.
Mizzou came back to COMO with some confidence before the battle for the Mayor’s Cup. Again, the run defense showed marked improvement, holding a normally solid Gamecock rushing attack to just 57 yards. Badie went for 209 yards on the ground himself, and the Tigers got a win they had to have to keep their bowl hopes alive.
Then the Florida game approached, with it being a pivotal meeting for both sides. Both teams entered with a 5-5 record, and Mizzou more than likely needed this win to make a bowl game, as taking down Arkansas in Fayetteville would be a tall order.
For the first time this season, Missouri got into a defensive battle. Shockingly, Harrison Mevis missed a field goal, and the game remained a back-and-forth affair throughout. In overtime, Drinkwitz got bold. He opted to go for two to win the game after Florida scored, and Bazelak executed one of the most important trick plays of the Drinkwitz era to secure the victory.
So now the Tigers sit at 6-5. In mid-October, nobody would have believed that this team had a shot to make a bowl game. But now, let’s look back on the season through a more positive lens.
Mizzou lost two early games by a combined 14 points, one of which was in overtime. Those two games (Kentucky and Boston College) could have easily gone the other way, and the team could be sitting at 8-3.
The run defense clearly just needed some time to come into their own and adjust to the new Steve Wilks system (and also a DL coaching change). They are now playing as a unit, attacking downhill, and are no longer a liability on this team.
For me, this season for Mizzou just goes to show that you can never write off a team. After the losses to Tennessee and Texas A&M, the majority of the Mizzou faithful had given up on this team, and were wondering if this coaching staff was the one that could rebuild this program. The outside noise was almost palpable.
Still, a battered and much-maligned team managed to shape up their defense and win some close games. The fanbase now believes in this program again, and there is nothing but positive momentum behind them. Drinkwitz is recruiting at an elite level, and an influx of future talent will only make this team better and more competitive.
It is still going to be a process. Don’t expect Mizzou to just carry all of this momentum into the next season, because we learned in 2021 that that does not always happen.
Let us also not forget that this was Drinkwitz’s first non-COVID season as a head coach in the SEC as well. There were certainly plenty of things he was adjusting to throughout the season.
So, there will yet again be plenty to look forward to next season with the recruiting class and how this season finished up. Let’s just hope this Missouri program gets out to a better start this time around.