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Missouri’s passing game rates as one of the SEC’s worst since Eli Drinkwitz was hired

Can Drinkwitz get the passing game going, or is this a symptom of his offense?

NCAA Football: Georgia at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

You’ve seen the games. You know the problem by now. Missouri’s passing game simply isn’t getting the job done, and it hasn’t for quite some time.

Looking back, the Tigers definitely had their moments through the air in 2020; Connor Bazelak threw for more than 400 yards against LSU, had a 300+ yard day against both Vanderbilt and Arkansas, and Drinkwitz seemed to be good for at least one explosive trick play per week. But since then, the creativity seems to be at a minimum. The efficiency has dipped substantially. And the fans are growing restless.

Let’s go back to the beginning, shall we? Eli Drinkwitz was hired as an offensive mind. The hope was he could bring his modernized pro-style offense to Missouri and have the same kind of success he enjoyed at NC State and Appalachian State. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had the same kind of quarterbacks at Missouri as he had at those stints. That’s partially his own doing, and partially a matter of circumstance.

Drinkwitz inherited an offense with star running backs, a promising young quarterback coming off a torn ACL, a thin offensive line and even weaker receiver corps. He turned that into a heck of a running game and a passable passing game for the first year. It stalled out in the passing game, but the rushing game sustained in 2021. This year, despite an upgrade in talent seemingly across the board, the results have stagnated.

Brady Cook has yet to throw for more than 300 yards in a game - including when the Tigers played Louisiana Tech and Abilene Christian. The running game seems to be coming around over the past few weeks after looking shaky he first three weeks of the season.

Missouri’s offense feels bad. It’s felt that way for a while. But that feel only tells us so much, unless it’s backed up with facts. So I decided to do a deep dive on how Missouri’s offense compares to its peers in the SEC since Eli Drinkwitz was hired.

Missouri’s passing stats against FBS opponents since the star of the 2020 season:

  • 6,214 passing yards (9th)
  • 6.7 yards per attempt (12th)
  • 25 passing touchdowns (14th)
  • 25 interceptions (10th)
  • Average Depth of Target (via SEC Stat Cat):
  • PFF Passer Rating: 77.9 in 2020 (6th), 67.5 in 2021 (12th), 63.0 (11th)

By just about any metric, Missouri has been a bottom five passing offense in the conference. Let’s break it down a step further. The following table is a comparison of SEC passing offenses since the start of the 2020 season. I removed Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Arkansas because they were significantly better than the rest of the pack.

Worst SEC Passing Totals 2020-2022 vs FBS opponents

Category: Mizzou Florida Miss St LSU Auburn A&M Vandy South Carolina Kentucky
Category: Mizzou Florida Miss St LSU Auburn A&M Vandy South Carolina Kentucky
Passing Attempts 926 991 1502 1009 957 800 811 783 707
Passing Completions 609 631 1061 610 553 470 484 467 449
Passing Yards 6214 8325 9812 7467 6471 5569 5044 5546 5207
Yards per Pass Attempt 6.7 8.4 6.5 7.4 6.8 7 6.2 7.1 7.3
Passing Touchdowns 25 70 71 58 30 42 36 31 41
Interceptions 25 34 30 21 17 19 24 28 19
20+ Yard Pass Plays 80 128 106 92 93 69 64 81 67
30+ Yard Pass Plays 28 63 34 47 35 29 25 37 30
Sacks Taken 48 38 77 84 56 41 53 70 67

It’s pretty wild how many similarities there are between Auburn and Missouri when you break down their respective offenses over he past two seasons. That makes sense, given the history of Drinkwitz and Bryan Harsin. Unfortunately, it doesn’t speak particularly highly of the passing game they developed together over the years.

Auburn vs. Mizzou offense 2021-2022 (SEC Ranking):

  • Passing Attempts: 633 (4th) vs. 631 (5th)
  • Passing Yards: 4,434 (9th) vs. 4,282 (10th)
  • Passing Yards per Attempt: 7.0 (11th) vs. 6.8 (12th)
  • Passing Touchdowns: 22 (14h) vs. 23 (13th)
  • Total Interceptions: 12 (3rd) vs. 19 (12th)
  • Total Yards: 7,435 (10th) vs. 7,625 (9th)
  • Total Yards per Play: 5.8 (T11th) vs. 5.8 (T11th)
  • Total Touchdowns: 59 (T12th) vs. 59 (T12th)
  • Total Turnovers: 25 (T9th) vs. 25 (T9th)

If we accept that Auburn and Missouri run a similar offensive system with a similar overall philosophy due to the shared history of Drinkwitz and Harsin, what does it say that such an offense is having similar lackluster results in two different divisions with two completely different sets of players?

This is not to suggest Drinkwitz’s offense can’t work. The running concepts, for example, paved the way for Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie to run into Missouri’s history books. Nathaniel Peat and Cody Schrader both seem to be finding their footing in this run game, as well. But what if this is what the offense is? What if this offense requires elite quarterback play or a talent advantage across the board to reach the next level?

These are the questions I find myself asking as we reach the bye week. I honestly don’t have the answers. Maybe Drinkwitz will evolve his offense. Maybe it’s as simple as he’s been held back the last three years because Brady Cook and Connor Bazelak have taken he vast majority of the snaps at quarterback. Maybe Sam Horn or a transfer quarterback will unlock whatever the next level of this offense could be.

For now, the results are clear: Missouri’s passing game has been among the worst in the SEC since Drinkwitz took over. That must change if the Tigers are going to get back to consistent bowl eligibility.