With the glutton of quarterbacks that are committed to Missouri, I figured we should maybe discuss the quarterback who not just started for them last season, but who also will start for them again in 2021.
Connor Bazelak, the reigning SEC Freshman of the Year, has been nothing but steady since he became the starter early into the 2020 season. He’s among the nation’s most efficient passers in the country, finishing at 17th with a completion percentage of 67.3%. He was not only efficient, but he played a lot of turnover free football. This is all behind an - at times - suspect offensive line, and with a receiving corps that was up and down all season. Still, Bazelak impressed when the circumstances were somewhat fair.
When given a clean pocket, Bazelak was wonderful. According to SEC Stat Cat, he completed a whopping 76% of passes when not pressured:
He gashed teams across the middle, and completed somewhat enough down the field for them to be marginally successful through the air. I’ve said that Bazelak needs to improve his downfield accuracy the most leading up to the new season, but there are some major flashes that give you optimism that he will, in fact, do that.
That last gif leads me to my next point, an element that is not often discussed. Bazelak and his legs can do a lot of nice things for a team. No, I’m not saying that he’s going to be a 1000 yard rusher or anything, but he’s athletic enough where he can move around and add another wrinkle for the defense to account for.
Here’s Connor on 3rd down, mind you, not just feeling the pressure and stepping up in the pocket but throwing a throwing a dart to an open Keke Chism:
Or here, on another third down, Bazelak is running out of options as the play turns into a de-facto scramble drill. He keeps the play alive as long as he possibly can and when there’s nothing else... He just takes off and gets the first down.
Here’s a wrinkle that I’d like to see more of in 2021. Bazelak, in high school if you remember, came out of a wishbone offense that ran a large amount amount of triple option. He’s no stranger to reading the pitch man, and no stranger to handing the ball in that manner. With the amount of inside zone reads that they ran last season (136 times or about 42% of runs), this is a nice way of testing the defense’s discipline and also potentially getting a speedy guy in space on the edge.
Bazelak, who’s still a freshman somehow (Editor’s note: it feels like forever), showed so many layers to his game last season. The arm talent, the poised nature he displayed was encouraging, and he also showed a lot of versatility when he needed to. He had games where he had to be a game manager (Kentucky, South Carolina) and there were games where he had to sling it around the yard (LSU, Arkansas). It’s all about playing within yourself and doing what the team needs you to do, and he absolutely checked that box.
I want to see more from Bazelak in 2021. I want to see improvement in areas like the deep and intermediate passing, and I want to see more responsibility placed on him to operate the offense as well. Now in year two, with the same offensive staff and a few more weapons at wide receiver, I think it makes him a candidate to not just do that, but to make a bigger leap as well.
Bazelak isn’t a finished product by any means. He has so much potential for growth with the stability Missouri is returning. To usurp the SEC’s Freshman of the Year though, it’s gonna take a lot more than just recruiting hype to do that.