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The resurgence of Brady Cook amidst the outside noise

For all the ridicule he has faced this season, Cook is playing his best football right now and making a case to start again in 2023.

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

What a ride it has been for Brady Cook. The St. Louis product dreamed of playing quarterback for Missouri his whole life, and after getting on the field in 2021, Cook earned the title of “starter” in the offseason of 2022.

However, as we all know, not everything has been peachy for Cook this season. The 2 INT performances against Kansas State and Florida and the fact that he has not thrown for over 300 yards in a game this season say enough on that front. Cook has been one of the most inconsistent quarterbacks in the country in 2022, missing open throws and making countless decisions that cause Mizzou fans to scratch their heads.

However, while people have been calling for his job all season long, Cook stayed the course. He never got too rattled, even during the 3-game losing streak to start the season, or after incredibly disappointing games against K-State and Kentucky. Eliah Drinkwitz could have gone with another quarterback at many points (and many had a specific name in mind to replace him), but the head coach stuck with the guy he chose throughout the season.

“He didn’t flinch,” Drinkwitz said. “Obviously, his rushing ability is really what separated us in this game (Arkansas) and gave us a chance to win, so I’m proud of him. In the finale, with the shoulder issues and all that kind of stuff; he just keeps getting up with a smile on his face and says ‘Let’s go’.”

The head coach has been rewarded for his patience.

In his final three games, Cook has thrown for 710 yards, ran for 276 yards, has seven total touchdowns and a 108.7 QBR.

He looks night-and-day different from how he had played earlier in this season. From an outsider’s perspective, the redshirt sophomore just looks more comfortable on the field, which seems to have largely lead to his resurgence. He stands in the pocket, goes through progressions, and has been able to find his playmakers downfield. There are still some missed throws, but not nearly as many, and he’s beginning to really develop his downfield passing (averaging 13.2 yards per pass in the past three weeks).

“After the bye week, I said ‘I’m not gonna leave my defense hanging anymore,’” Cook said. “I think that’s always up to us to hold up our end of the bargain. If we do that, we have one heck of a team.”

He also bounces back from his mistakes much better now. Earlier in the season, it seemed as if Cook let the outside pressure get to him when he missed a throw or had a turnover, and it weighed him down. Now, he’s showing the ability to shrug off an overthrow or bad read and respond afterwards.

Probably the most noticeable improvement for Cook has been his willingness to use his legs. He’s not forcing throws anymore; instead, he’s scrambling out of the pocket when his options are not open downfield. He has the speed to scamper past most linemen and linebackers, and he’s slippery to take down in the open field. Defenses now fear his legs, both on designed runs and on scramble drills. Having a quarterback that can run is a major bonus in college football nowadays because of how defenses have to account for him.

Just ask Arkansas, who Cook ran for 125 yards against in the first half alone.

So, where does he go from here? The Arkansas game was a perfect ending to the season. Cook had 242 passing yards, 38 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a stellar performance to take this team to a bowl game. The extra practice time and game experience will be invaluable for this program that still continues to build.

Cook has certainly improved throughout the year, but he still has plenty of development ahead of him, specifically with his accuracy and decision-making. Still, he appears to be coming into his own, and with how he has played in recent weeks, he will likely enter the 2023 offseason as the presumed starter at quarterback.

“You know, my mindset’s never changed,” Cook said. “I know there’s a lot of noise out there. Being, you know, an SEC quarterback, I battled through a lot of adversity that comes with the job. I’ll continue to fight for this team. I always will. I love the school. I love our coaches. And no outside noise is going to change that. So now I’m going to keep fighting for this team no matter what.”

It will be interesting to see if Drinkwitz pursues any quarterbacks in the portal this offseason, even to just push Cook with more competition. Last year, he tried to lure a couple signal-callers to Columbia, and none came to town.

It will also be interesting to see if Tyler Macon and even Sam Horn stick around. Horn still figures to take over down the road, but Cook seems to have a couple legs up on him right now, and that potentially means two more years of him as the starter.

With a full year of starting experience under his belt and more confidence, Cook appears to be poised for a breakout 2023 season. As Rick Neuheisel said multiple times during the CBS broadcast on Friday, “It’s fun to watch this kid grow up.”