It was a beautiful day. It was Homecoming. There were over 60,000 fans in the stands, the best crowd since the Ole Miss crowd of 2019. And yet we had to watch half of a football team win the game with very little input from the other half of the football team. There were some flashes and big moments from the offense to be sure - all in the 1st half - but this was another typical slop-fest that Mizzou seemingly loves to play in this year. But winning is the most important part and, after a brutal three-game stretch, Missouri finally won a football game. Let’s talk about the five big things I took away from this Homecoming contest.
1. The defense is the only good thing about this team
Brady Cook has a clear limitation to what he can do. This offensive line can’t stop any defensive line. The receivers are inconsistent and the running game goes 20 yards or -2 yards. The punt team is scattershot. Mevis has extended his mortality streak. Everything is a problem except for this defense and there’s just no way Missouri can reliably win games with only one-third of a team. It has somehow produced three wins but if we are to believe the staff that there are no better options on this team to improve the non-defensive units, then this is just going to be a bad team that needs a lot of help to win a single game. Missouri football just isn’t very fun this year, even when they win.
2. A healthy Luther Burden is legit
Woe to all those defenses that rank in the 100s or worse. Against Louisiana Tech and Vanderbilt - two defenses that rank worse than 100 in SP+ - Touchdown Luther has 12 targets and 8 catches for 83 yards and 2 touchdowns, plus 4 rushes for 36 yards and 2 touchdowns. Against every other FBS team on the schedule: 21 targets/9 catches/39 yards/0 touchdowns plus 1 rush for 6 yards. Now, all his damage against Vandy came in the 1st half before he seemingly disappeared from the game. And, granted, he is still a freshman and while defenses are able to jam him on routes, press him at the line, and generally throw him off his game he won’t be able to do what we all wish we can do. But against terrible competition (soon, New Mexico State, soon) Burden is a terror. Just imagine what he can do next year once he’s used to how defenses scheme against him!
3. Jaylon Carlies is a dude
Here is Carlies’ season - and career - stats coming into this game:
Along with an apparently unpronounceable last name, Carlies unleashed hell on Vandy’s offense, finishing with an interception and several big hits and timely tackles. Heading into this year we knew that he and Manuel were excellent safeties but, seven games in, Carlies has managed to outshine Manuel’s disruptive role and be another incredible piece to Blake Baker’s resurgent defense.
4. Cody Schrader is a legitimate SEC running back
Headed into this season I was certainly skeptical of the walk-on from Truman State being able to come in and make an immediate impact. And, truly, the first few weeks saw several ups and downs from the Lutheran South product. But as the season has wore on Schrader has seemingly gotten better and better, and on a day where the o-line once again struggled - and Nate Peat was going through a rough stretch - Schrader was the best back, average 10 yards per carry well into the 4th quarter. He’s set to go on scholarship this January so it’s safe to assume he’ll be back next year; it’s great for him and the team for him to get another season of development and execution to buoy a position group that is light on execution and experience.
5. Somehow, this season isn’t done yet
Believe it or not six wins are still on the table. Is it probable? Man, I really don’t think so. But if Missouri can slop up every game and keep it close late, regardless of opponent, then hopefully some of the 2020 close-game-magic returns to find three more wins this season. No matter how it looks, winning is way better than losing and ugly wins are just going to be the way this team is going to get them this year. Buckle up, it could be a wild close to the year.