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A re-re-re-evaluation of the 2022 Missouri Tigers

Now that we are just over 75% of the way through the season, I’ll do my last evaluation of what the 2022 Missouri Tiger football team is.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Missouri William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

So, the 2022 Missouri Tigers have continued their roller coaster ride. They won a sloppy game over Vanderbilt, dismantled South Carolina, dramatically lost to Kentucky, then allowed Tennessee to drop 60+ for the second straight year.

We’ve learned a lot in the past four games; some good, some bad. The trend of close games has for the most part continued, and the trend of weird and frustrating endings has continued as well. The offense has been as inconsistent as ever, while the defense was dominating until faltering in the second half against Tennessee.

With two games left and a bowl-berth still on the line, let’s take a look at what these Tigers truly are at this point.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Statistics

Points Per Game: 23.2

Points Allowed: 25.9

Total Yards Per Game: 354.1

Passing Yards: 204.5

Rushing Yards: 149.6

Total Yards Allowed Per Game: 345.7

Passing Yards Allowed: 219.2

Rushing Yards Allowed: 126.5

Turnovers Forced: 13 (7 INTS, 6 FR)

Leading Passer: Brady Cook (65.0% completion, 2,011 yards, 9 TDs, 7 INTs)

Leading Rusher: Cody Schrader (121 carries, 535 yards, 5 TDs, 4.4 YPC)

Leading Receiver: Dominic Lovett (49 catches, 706 yards, 3 TDs)

Team Strengths

  1. Pass-Rush

The defense as a whole could be considered a strength, but the pass-rush has really come alive in recent weeks. The Tigers had 4 sacks against South Carolina before picking up a whopping 6 sacks against Kentucky. They followed that up with 4 again against the Vols.

Isaiah McGuire, Darius Robinson, Realus George, Ty’Ron Hopper, Marten Manuel, DJ Coleman...the list goes on and on of players that have been disruptive in the front seven. McGuire leads the way with 6.5 sacks right now, but DJ Coleman is close behind with 4.5.

After defensive coordinator Blake Baker cited that the only thing he wanted his team to do better after the Vandy game was to get to the passer more, I think his defense has answered that call.

2. Receiver Corps

I won’t go too into this one, as it has been a strength of this team for a while now. Dominic Lovett is the star of the show, as he had a career day against South Carolina with 10 catches and 148 yards in that game. Then, when he was largely taken away by Kentucky, Luther Burden took over with 6 catches and 60 yards.

And, of course, third-and-Barrett Banister has been alive and well throughout this season, as he has remained the most sure-handed target on this team. He led the way with 73 yards against Tennessee, and it was also great to see Tauskie Dove get involved against the Vols.

3. Resilience

I spoke about this as a strength earlier in the season, but there’s been more examples since.

Going into the South Carolina game, Mizzou had barely managed to beat Vandy 17-14 and not many gave them a shot against a Top-25 team on the road. They took their shot and ran with it, dominated the Gamecocks in their most complete game of the season.

Then, even though it ended in a loss, the Tigers were down to Kentucky 14-3 entering the fourth quarter. They battled back to take a lead before squandering it in the fourth quarter, but that willingness to not just roll over and give in has been present on this team throughout the season.

You have to attribute that to two things: Great motivational coaching, and quality player character.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Team Weaknesses

  1. Passing Offense

There were certainly flashes of life against Tennessee. The offense played maybe their best football of the season in the second and third quarters against UT, with Cook looking comfortable and completing downfield passes.

But, still, for every good throw Brady Cook makes, he makes 2-3 bad ones. Against Kentucky he missed a plethora of open targets, and the UT performance just suggest that Cook is a streaky quarterback. Not what you want at this level.

Dominic Lovett and Luther Burden have had stellar seasons, yes, but they have not gotten the ball nearly as much as they should. Lovett specifically has really not seen many targets in recent weeks, with no catches against Kentucky before rebounding with 4 for 47 yards and a touchdown against UT.

The cries for a new quarterback have been loud and proud, but Drinkwitz has remained with Cook. The St. Louis kid is tough as nails and can run the ball well, but his ceiling appears to be very low in the passing game, and that is holding this team back.

2. Luck? Karma? Idk?

This one isn’t as legit, but at this point I don’t know how else to put it. Between the wackiness of the Auburn and Kentucky games, nearly every Mizzou loss seems to come in dramatic and unorthodox fashion.

Maybe it’s just the mantra of “lose big, lose small, win small, win big” coming into play this year (if so, Mizzou is certainly at step two). Maybe the football gods just have it out for the Tigers this year. Or, maybe the bounces just really aren’t going this team’s way.

No matter what the reasoning, this team struggles to win close games, and they find new ways to lose each time. For fans, coaches, and players alike, that is excruciating.

3. Penalties/Turnovers

This has only become a recent struggle, and not a big one at that. Still, they’ve played a big factor in a couple of games.

South Carolina’s only offense really came from penalties. We could talk for hours about the refs in the Kentucky game, but regardless of the controversial calls, the Tigers still had two turnovers and a couple of really costly penalties.

This offense is not good enough to have to deal with negative yardage plays and turnovers. The combination of those two has forced this defense into countless tough situations, although they have done well to save the team in many of those instances.

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

Surprise Player

Previously, Ty’Ron Hopper and Kris Abrams-Draine were featured in this section.

Now, I’d like to give Cody Schrader his love.

The Truman State transfer really didn’t know how he was going to contribute to this team in 2022. Even he himself said that he just wanted to at least get on the field for special teams this fall.

Well, he’s now the #1 running back on this team and leads them with 535 rushing yards and 5 TDs. He’s become a fan-favorite thanks to his story and angry running style.

Yeah, he runs angry. Schrader is a bowling ball that is tough to take down with arm tackles. He almost always falls forward when he is taken down, and he churns his legs for extra yards every time he is tackled. That’s exactly the kind of toughness and grit you want out of a running back in the SEC, and that is why he’s been able to separate himself from the pack in the RB room.

Questions To Be Answered

  1. How will Brady Cook end the season?

Let’s be honest. Cook is playing for his job every week. Not just for this season, but for next season as well. If he still wants to enter the offseason as the favorite to start for Mizzou in 2023, Cook has to show fans and coaches something different to end this season. That would mean consistency in the passing game, smart decisions, and making the throws that are there.

2. How many players will earn themselves a place on Sundays?

Somewhat of an aside, but there’s a lot of players on this Missouri team, specifically the defense, that have what it takes to play on Sundays.

It’s safe to say that McGuire and Abrams-Draine will be selected in the 2023 NFL Draft as long as they continue their current level of play. But, guys like Ennis Rakestraw, Trajan Jeffcoat, Joseph Charleston, Darius Robinson, Kristian Williams, Realus George, Martez Manuel, and a host of others have NFL potential. At this moment, they are all still playing to prove themselves to scouts.

3. Again, will we see another quarterback take a snap?

Goes hand-in-hand with #1, but with New Mexico State coming to town this week, this becomes a more prevalent question. Drinkwitz has been fairly stubborn with keeping Cook in games even when he struggles (to the ire of most fans), but assuming that the Tigers cruise to a win over the Aggies, then we should see some other QBs.

Sam Horn is obviously the name everyone wants to see. The former 4/5-star quarterback has yet to see the field for the Tigers this season, but every fan knows his name. People really want to see the potential of this kid, as he appears to be the future of the QB spot in Columbia.

Tyler Macon and Jack Abraham could also see the field, and frankly, any of these three quarterbacks could dethrone Cook for next season if they can impress in their limited action in the final two games.

NCAA Football: Liberty at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

End Of Season Expectations

Mizzou now sits at 4-6 with two games remaining on the schedule. New Mexico State will come to town at 4-5, and as one of the worst programs in Division-I football, it is safe to assume that will be a victory.

So then everything comes down to the Battle Line Rivalry. Black Friday, with Arkansas (probably) also looking to clinch a bowl berth; nothing could be better. Losing that game almost certainly classifies this season as a failure, while winning it could completely flip the perception of this program.

The Razorbacks are no slouch. KJ Jefferson is one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC when healthy, and he and “Rocket” Sanders are a dangerous backfield duo.

Arkansas’ main weakness? Pass defense. They are the 11th worst team in pass defense in the nation, allowing teams to throw for 280.5. Unfortunately for Mizzou, passing offense is one of their weakest points, averaging a mere 204 yards per game.

With the defenses this team will be playing in these last two games, the biggest thing all fans should be looking for is how do Brady Cook and Eliah Drinkwitz finish this season. Does Cook continue to struggle, and the play-calling along with it?

Or, do they find success and finish the season on a high note, changing people’s perception of the offense as a whole?

To me, the Arkansas game is a toss-up and destine to be another game that comes down to the wire. But, as we all know, the Tigers have struggled in those close games this season. So, I unfortunately have to pick the Razorbacks to go bowling instead, as I just trust Jefferson way more than I do Cook in a late-game situation.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong and that we get a Kansas vs. Mizzou Liberty Bowl in roughly a month’s time.