Connor Bazelak is struggling. You know that. But why is he struggling? Why does he look like a quarterback who took steps back from where he was a year ago? Those questions are more difficult to answer.
I went back and re-watched every throw Bazelak attempted in the Tigers’ win against Vanderbilt to try to find a through line in his struggles. This was a game in which Bazelak completed nearly 80 percent of his passes, but outside of the one heave prior to halftime, he averaged just six yards per pass attempt. He’s completing passes at the same rate he did a year ago, but his efficiency has gone down, his touchdown rate hasn’t improved at the level one would have assumed and his interception rate remains too high.
In other words, IT’S NOT GOING GREAT, BOB!
So, back to the original question - what’s going wrong and why does it seem like he’s taken a step back? Let’s take a look at a few of the recurring issues.
Bazelak isn’t trusting his eyes
One of the biggest issues you’ll see when you watch Bazelak is that he seems to be slow with the trigger. What I mean by that is he’ll see something open, but there are times when he doesn’t trust what he’s seeing and he ends up waiting too long.
Missouri’s offense is very reliant on timing— especially on third down when the Tigers are running routes to the sticks. The quarterback has to be ready to make the throw as the receiver is coming out of his break. Too often against Vanderbilt, that didn’t happen.
They were bailed out on the DPI call, but this is a throw Bazelak has to get rid of quicker. pic.twitter.com/DpU5FyFIwX— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) November 1, 2021
This is an example of what I’m referencing. Mizzou was up 3-0 midway through the first quarter. The offense was facing a third and five, which means it’s Banister time, of course. Banister runs a quick out route. Vanderbilt is in a soft zone defense. Banister breaks open immediately out of his break. It would’ve taken a rifle of a throw, but one Bazelak can make. He waits, waits, waits and then makes the throw. It worked out, as the defender got there early and gifted Missouri a first down. But it was the first example of what became a theme throughout the game.
Another throw in which Bazelak is late. He has Bannister open at the sticks but he waits, feels pressure and short arms the throw to Dove. pic.twitter.com/i85dptV2mA— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) November 2, 2021
This was probably the most glaring example of what I’m referencing with Bazelak not trusting his eyes. Again, it’s third and medium and the Tigers are running their slot receiver to the sticks. When Bazelak gets to the top of his drop, he has Banister open across the middle right at the marker. It might have been a tough throw, but it’s one you have to make. He waits, again, and eventually throws it into the dirt.
I’m not sure how or if this can be fixed. Playing quarterback is - at least in part - instinctual. Some of this very well could be related to confidence, too. If you make mistakes, you’re likely to wait to be reassured that what you think you see is actually there. That might work against SEMO or North Texas. It doesn’t work against SEC defenses. They just have too much speed to recover if you’re a half a tick off.
He’s just missing throws he has to make
The biggest “miss” in the game for Bazelak was his deep play-action shot in the middle of the field to JJ Hester. Hester beat his man off the line of scrimmage, had him on his back hip and broke his route toward the right hash where there was no safety to be seen.
This is a throw Bazelak has to hit. Well designed & executed PA deep shot. JJ Hester has the defender on his back hip. The safety is underneath. Just throw it to the right hash. Instead, he leads Hester back into the defender upfield and it falls incomplete. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/gwRkx15wKv— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) November 2, 2021
Unfortunately, Bazelak threw the ball upfield instead of giving Hester room to run under the ball. The placement brought Hester back toward the defender just enough for the defensive player to make a play on the ball and ultimately the ball fell incomplete.
Pressure has become a big issue
Let’s talk about pressure. And I’m not talking about the urgency Mizzou is feeling to start racking up some wins at the end of this season. I’m talking about the pass rush that’s been bothering Bazelak. This really came to a head against Vanderbilt.
I'll never understand what Bazelak saw on this play. It's 2nd down. He feels the pressure. Dump the ball down to Badie or throw it away. The safety didn't even have to move to pick this off. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/zwp2thllRp— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) November 2, 2021
Bazelak’s lone interception against Vanderbilt was a result of pressure. I’m still not entirely sure what he saw on the play. It was a 2nd and 14 play late in the first quarter with the Tigers driving in the red zone up 10-0. Bazelak felt the pressure coming from a looping defensive lineman and threw the ball up for grabs. It ended up going right to a Vanderbilt defender. There was no chance for any Mizzou player to make a play. On that play, he has to do one of two things: 1) check the ball down to his running back or 2) throw the ball away and live to see another down.
The consistent theme watching Bazelak against Vandy was how he reacted to pressure. He had a clean pocket on this play, drifted into pressure and short armed the throw to Tauskie Dove. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/CW4eVmfwQG— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) November 2, 2021
It’s one thing for that to happen once in a game. But it’s been a consistent issue throughout the season and it showed up once again later in the game. Midway through the third quarter with Missouri leading 17-14, Bazelak ran into pressure coming around the right end short armed the throw to Tauskie Dove as Dove was running wide open across the middle.
Bazelak is out of sorts. He’s not playing well enough to justify keeping Brady Cook and/or Tyler Macon off the field for the rest of the season. That doesn’t mean Cook or Macon should start. But they absolutely deserve to get opportunities.
Let’s look at this realistically. Missouri is 4-4 with a road game against Georgia on the horizon. The final three games are about 2022 as much as they are 2021. Missouri should expect to go into spring ball and fall camp with an open competition at the quarterback position. Why not get an early start with live reps against South Carolina, Florida and Arkansas?
I don’t know if Macon or Cook will be better than Bazelak. It’s time we all find out.