It’s becoming a recurring script. Missouri starts slow, finds a way to get back into the game and ultimately comes up short. That was the story at Auburn, and it’s once again the case at Florida. There were bright spots in this one, but in the end the Tigers just can’t seem to break through against Power Five competition; especially on the road.
Let’s get to the takeaways.
1) Mizzou has to figure out how to win on the road under Eli Drinkwitz
This team’s inability to go on the road and finish the job has been strange. Since the start of last season, the Tigers are 1-7 in true road games. The one win came at Vanderbilt, which, well… yeah.
What’s gone wrong? Slow starts. Let’s go through these games one-by-one.
- 2021 @ Kentucky: Down 14-0 midway though the first quarter, lose 35-28
- 2021 @ Boston College: Started strong, failed to finish in overtime and lose 41-34.
- 2021 @ Vanderbilt: Down 14-7 midway through the second quarter, come back to win 37-28
- 2021 @ Georgia: Down 26-3 at halftime, lose 43-6
- 2021 @ Arkansas: Down 10-3 midway through the second second, lose 34-17
- 2022 @ K-State: Down 20-3 midway through the second quarter, lose 40-12
- 2022 @ Auburn: Down 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, lose 17-14 in OT
- 2022 @ Florida: Down 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, lose 24-17
Missouri wants to finish strong. I would like to see that, too. But at this point I would settle for a strong start. We saw that against Georgia. Why isn’t it carrying over to the road games? The Tigers are 0-7 over the past two years on the road when they don’t play Vanderbilt. They’ve been outscored by a combined 106 points in those seven games. It’s not what you want.
2) Missouri lost that game on three plays
- Missouri has the ball on 4th & 11 from their own 32-yard line with 4:33 to play in the first quarter
There is no score in the game. Missouri opts to punt on 4th and 11, the right call given where they’re at on the field. The punt travels 40 yards, but it doesn’t have the hang time for the Tigers’ punt team to get in position to make a tackle. Xzavier Henderson returns the kick 48 yards to Missouri’s 24-yard line, and the Gators get better field position on their next possession than they would have if the Tigers simply went for it on fourth down. The defense did its job and got off the field in three plays, but the damage was done. The breakdown on the punt handed the Tigers three points.
- Missouri has the ball on 3rd & 6 from their own 44-yard line with 1:01 to play in the first quarter
Missouri gets the ball back down 3-0 after the Gators’ field goal from their advantageous field position and get a big 19-yard run on second down from Nathaniel Peat. The Tigers go back to Peat on first down from their own 40, and he’s stuffed for a 1-yard loss. Brady Cook throws a pass short to Luther Burden on second down for five yards. On third and six, Drinkwitz designed a play to go back to Burden. It appears the play is designed to get Burden on a quick slant, but a linebacker pushes him off his route and the cornerback jumps the route. That is a timing route, and Cook is almost certainly throwing the ball to a spot on the field where Burden is supposed to be. Burden isn’t there, and it ends very, very poorly. Jaydon Hill takes the interception 49 yards to the house and puts Florida up 10-0. That’s how the first quarter ended despite the Gators running just seven first half plays and being out-gained by Missouri, 107-32.
Here’s what I was referencing on the route. They said on the broadcast that Luther is dealing with a high ankle sprain. Couldn’t turn to make a tough catch on first down, then got knocked off his route on the INT. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/kZYGrzn4fN— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 8, 2022
- Missouri has the ball on 3rd & 6 from the Florida 16-yard line with 1:02 to play in the third quarter
Mizzou was moving the ball again into Florida territory. Earlier on the drive, Cook completed a 13-yard pass to Burden and a 14-yard pass to Tauskie Dove. He also had a 13-yard rush to extend the drive on third and nine. On the next third down, Cook is looking to make another play to extend the drive. He has two options to his left: Dominic Lovett and Dove. Lovett is pushed off his route by Florida’s linebacker, and that removes him from the equation. At that point, he’s either throwing the ball to Dove or eating it and kicking the field goal on the next play. He decides to give Dove a chance, and it comes back to bite him. Hill once again had sticky coverage, getting physical at the top of Dove’s route and gaining inside leverage as the ball came his way. Instead of Missouri putting three points on the board and making it a 17-13 game, Florida would capitalize on their next drive and extend the lead to 24-10.
#Mizzou’s wide receivers are struggling with the the physicality from Florida’s defense. Lovett gets thrown to the side to & Dove got pushed off the stem of his route on that interception. pic.twitter.com/0XF3TFge9p— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 8, 2022
3) I actually don’t think Brady Cook played a bad game
I’m sure I’ll take some heat for this, but that’s fine. I thought Cook mostly played well. He finished the day 22-for-30 for 220 yards through the air, and he added 34 yards on the ground. He dropped back to pass on 14 third down opportunities, converting eight of them for a first down with either his arm or his legs. The Tigers finished the game with six pass plays of 15+ yards, and he also added an explosive 13-yard play on the ground. His best play of the day came when Tollison accidentally snapped the ball as Cook was trying to make a check call at the line of scrimmage. Cook was able to run the ball down, pick it up, and threw it away to prevent a massive loss on the play. The Tigers scored a touchdown five plays later to get them back into the game.
Cook was far from perfect. He’s the definition of a “game manager” at the quarterback position, and in this game he did throw two incredibly costly interceptions. That said, I put more of the weight on those interceptions on the wide receivers getting knocked off of their routes than I do on Cook. If you want to blame Cook, that’s fine. I think the timing route was a really tough play to criticize him for. The throw to Dove that was intercepted could go either way, and I could listen to the argument that Cook should throw the ball away on that play and live to kick the field goal on fourth down. Regardless, I thought this was one of Cook’s better games when you look at it in its entirety, and it simply wasn’t enough.
4) Shoutout to a few young guys making plays
Missouri is dealing with some cluster injuries at the receiver position; Dominic Lovett is dealing with a bum ankle, Burden was out at that point with his high ankle sprain and Barrett Banister missed the game with his injury as well. Mekhi Miller, a true freshman out of Kansas City, filled in during their absence and came up with a couple huge plays in the fourth quarter. He was on the receiving end of a third and 15 pass to extend a drive early in the fourth quarter, and then caught another deep pass on a third and 18 for 20 yards late in the fourth quarter to keep Mizzou’s hopes alive.
Daylan Carnell also deserves some love. It feels like every time he’s on the field, he’s making a big play. He came into the day with eight solo tackles, two tackles for loss, a pass deflection and a fumble recovery. Carnell showed up yet again when the ball when Jaylon Carlies deflected a pass into the air with less than four minutes to play. Carnell came down with it, giving Mizzou one more chance to tie the game.
Two players who dealt with injuries last season, Mookie Cooper and Ennis Rakestraw, Jr. are really coming into their own. Cooper might not be the game-changing threat people expected him to be when he was a blue chip recruit coming out of high school, but he’s an SEC-caliber wide receiver who has come up with some big-time plays over the last few weeks. Rakestraw had some outrageous expectations coming in after he was Drinkwitz’s first “signature win” on the recruiting trail, and it was a tough start for him at Mizzou. But he’s been excellent this season, and he put together yet another quality game against Florida, breaking up multiple passes.
5) This is a good time for Missouri to take some time to self-evaluate
This has been an incredibly frustrating three week stretch for the Tigers: A 3-point loss in overtime at Auburn, a 4-point loss at home against the top-ranked team in the country, and then a one-possession loss on the road at Florida. Missouri is a few plays away from being 5-1, but instead the record is sitting at 2-4.
The season isn’t over. Missouri should beat Vanderbilt. I believe they are a better team than South Carolina (though that game is on the road), and they will beat New Mexico State. That should get them to five victories, and then bowl eligibility comes down to their ability to pull off an upset against one of Kentucky, Tennessee or Arkansas. It’s possible. This defense will give them a chance; it’s a legitimately good unit. But what else does this team do well? Which young guys should see more opportunities? Is the play-calling putting the offense in the best position to succeed? These are the questions that should (and will) be asked by the coaching staff during the bye week.
The Tigers have lost three-straight games by seven points or less for the first time since 1955. This has been a tough stretch. It’s probably best for everyone to take a deep breath and regroup before Vanderbilt. The timing couldn’t be better for a bye week.