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What I’m about to say is unpopular. What I’m about to say, I’m not even sure I say it with confidence. But it’s something that needs to be said.
I would start Brady Cook against Vanderbilt.
Wooooof. Okay. I’m glad I got that off my chest. It’s been weighing on me all week. I didn’t know how to say it, so I guess it’s best to just come out and say it.
The explanation is pretty simple, honestly. I don’t think Cook has been as bad as some would lead you to believe. Has he been great? No, of course not. But nobody expected him to be great.
Cook’s job is to manage the game and give Missouri a chance to win. Outside of the game against Kansas State, Missouri has been in every game this season. Some of that is because of Cook, most of it is because he didn’t do too much to keep the Tigers out of the game.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. Those pesky interceptions. They’ve happened. Six times, to be exact. In fact, there are only nine power five quarterbacks to throw more interceptions this season than Cook. As an aside, it’s shocking to me that less half of those teams featuring quarterbacks throwing 7+ interceptions on the season are under .500 (Virginia, Virginia Tech and Michigan State).
Okay, back to the interceptions. They’re a problem. But they’re not exclusively a Cook problem. Allow me to explain.
I went back and re-watched all six of Cook’s interceptions this season. While there are a couple that are truly Cook’s fault, there are others that are more on the wide receivers than they are on the quarterback.
Let’s start at the top. Cook’s first interception came with the team up 31-10 late in the third quarter against Louisiana Tech. Cook targeted Luther Burden III on a short crossing pattern, and the ball tipped off Burden’s hands and into the linebacker’s arms. The ball had a too much zip on it, but it should have been caught.
The second interception came midway through the third quarter against Kansas State with Missouri backed up in its own end zone. Cook was targeting a receiver deep down the middle of the field and threw it right to the safety. Can’t happen. Bad read, bad throw. That’s on Cook. On the very next drive, Cook threw a “Texas route” to Nathaniel Peat, but he didn’t see a defensive lineman drop off his rush to “spy” the quarterback. That defensive lineman made a great play to jump up and deflect the ball into his own hands. It’s a great play by the defensive lineman. Hard to fault anyone for the play. Maybe Cook should have seen him, but it’s a tough play.
The fourth interception came on the road midway through the first quarter against Auburn. Cook was once again targeting Burden, this time on a quick slant. Burden gets inside leverage, but the ball bounces off his shoulder pad into the air and the defender comes down with it. The corner had tight coverage, and it would have been a tough catch, but that’s another one that’s tough to fault Cook for.
Finally, we get to the two interceptions against Florida. The first was the pick six. It looks bad, almost as if Cook was targeting the defender. But when you dive further into the play, you’ll see that Burden was knocked off his route by a linebacker and couldn’t play through contact. The play was a timing route, Cook was throwing to a spot, and Burden did not end up in that spot. Great physical play by the linebacker, but again tough to fault Cook for the interception. Finally, we get to Cook’s interception in he red zone late in he third quarter against Florida. Cook’s first read appears to be Dominic Lovett on a quick out to his left. Lovett gets pushed to the side by a linebacker, and Cook turns his attention downfield to Tauskie Dove. Dove gets pushed (or interfered with, but I digress) at the top of his route, and the defender gains inside leverage to fight for the football. The pass probably shouldn’t have been attempted. Not on third down down by seven while you’re in the red zone in a game in which points had been hard to come by. It’s just too risky. Cook tried to make a play and it burned him.
I went back through those plays for a reason. I think fans would like to see Cook replaced for one primary reason: He doesn’t create enough plays to make up for his mistakes. In theory, I agree with that sentiment. The interceptions are crippling. But I genuinely believe the interceptions are more on the wide receivers than they have been on Cook.
That brings us to the timing of such a change. In theory, this is the time to make the switch. You’re coming off a bye week. Vanderbilt does not have a good defense. South Carolina is a winnable game. You still have two more games down the stretch against New Mexico State and Arkansas that would serve as two more opportunities to learn about Sam Horn. All of that makes sense to me.
Good stuff from @CoachDrinkwitz as he joined @Ben_Fred and me on our Mizzou Football Friday Show. You can hear the entire conversation tomorrow night beginning at 7 on @KTRS550. @BigSportsShow @MizzouFootball pic.twitter.com/6r0ojt0Uw4— Brendan Wiese (@bwiese16) October 13, 2022
But I think it’s about a month too soon. This team still has a real chance to win six games. I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s possible. And it’s clear the coaching staff believes Cook gives them the best chance to win. I think you owe it to this team to try to win as many games as possible while six is still on the table. If the Tigers lose to Vanderbilt or they lay an egg on the road at South Carolina, all bets are off. But until such a time, I believe Cook should start again this week.
We can revisit this conversation after the Tennessee game, and I might have a different answer.