Quarterback Brady Cook and the Missouri Tigers offense posted one of their worst offensive games of the season in Mizzou’s 21-17 defeat to the Kentucky Wildcats, totaling only 143 passing yards and 89 rushing yards.
Needing a refresher, this weekend’s matchup does not get any easier as the Tigers travel to Knoxville, Tennessee, to face off against the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers, who are fresh off of an uninspiring 27-13 loss to then-No. 3 Georgia.
Before falling to the Bulldogs, Tennessee had scored at least 34 points in every game this season, handing quite the task to Mizzou’s defense this Saturday. The Tiger offense, however, will need to be the unit to step up if Mizzou has an opportunity at keeping it close.
Cook and wide receiver Dominic Lovett discussed last week’s loss, the keys to matching up against Tennessee, and several other topics earlier Wednesday evening, so let’s break it down.
Tempo, third downs a point of emphasis against Tennessee
Tennessee’s high-tempo offense is one that those around college football are all too familiar with, due to the Vols’ ability to strike fast and often. On the flip side, Mizzou’s offense takes a much slower and methodical approach on offense, utilizing the run game and short yardage passes to move the chains.
“I think we need to try to control the tempo on both sides of the ball as best as possible,” QB Brady Cook said. “On offense, making sure we’re smart, keeping the ball in our hands as much as we can ... and at the end of the day, we’re going to do what we do.”
Mizzou’s success runs hand-in-hand with its running game, which will play a prominent role in controlling the tempo Saturday. Running back Cody Schrader will play a significant role in that gameplay, but with a banged up offensive line, Mizzou is going to face challenges.
Perhaps the biggest challenge not only for Saturday’s game, but the season in general comes in the form of third downs. The Tigers have converted only 38% of their third down attempts, generally forcing themselves into tough long-distance third downs. On Saturday, Cook mentioned that this will need to change.
“We have to be better on third downs,” Cook said. “We need to set ourselves up for manageable third downs ... I think success on third downs starts on first and second downs.”
Early down success will determine a lot about Mizzou’s offense, and Tennessee’s ninth-ranked run defense (97.0 yards per game) will not make it any easier. If Cook is to lead the Tigers to a miraculous showing against the Vols, it’ll likely need to come via his arm.
Last year’s 38-point loss to the Volunteers is a lesson of what not to do
Looking at that score above, it’s no wonder Mizzou enters as a 21.5-point underdog to Tennessee. The Tigers fell to the Volunteers at home in that 38-point drubbing just last season when Tennessee hadn’t even been ranked.
Now, the Volunteers host the Tigers as the nation’s No. 5 team, a distinction difficult to gaze upon if you’re an opposing fan at Neyland. If you’re Dominic Lovett though, it’s just another game.
“I feel like, this is just me (speaking), you should always have confidence no matter what the team is,” Lovett said. “No matter what the logo on the side of the helmet is, it shouldn’t be how you go and play, or how you think you’re going to play.”
Earlier this season against No. 1 Georgia, Mizzou flashed that mentality, nearly shocking the college football world with a one-possession loss that came down to the game’s final minutes. It's games like that as well as last year’s loss against Tennessee that have taught the Tigers where they need to improve.
“(We) can’t turn the ball over against a team that scores so quickly,” Cook said. “I watched last year’s game a few times and execution wasn't really there, and I think that’s what it’s going to come down to.”
Some things are greater than football for Lovett
When asked about a bracelet on his left wrist, Lovett talked about the passing of a former East Saint Louis football talent, Jaylon McKenzie. McKenzie was an eighth-grader at Mason-Clark Middle School and was killed when a stray bullet hit him on May 4, 2019 as he was leaving a party.
As a remembrance, Lovett’s left wristband reads “I am Jaylon McKenzie,” while his right wristband is a nod to his high school team, the Flyers.
When talking about the Jaylon McKenzie wristband, Lovett said, “That’s something I live by. I never take this wristband off, no matter what I’m doing (and) no matter what clothes I got on.”
Oftentimes, fans and viewers are enamored with the players and statistics on the field, but it’s extremely important to look beyond the end zones, locker rooms and sidelines, too. For Lovett, who has excelled in his second year in head coach Eliah Drinkwitz’s offense, the talent and skill takes a backseat to life.
“These (wristbands) are sentimental,” Lovett said. “This football thing is way bigger than me.”
Lovett’s memory of McKenzie is a positive one.
“He was a good kid,” Lovett said. “He put a lot of smiles on people’s (faces), he was a great kid to be around and what happened to him is so very, very unfortunate.”
Lovett said he also plans on getting a portrait in remembrance of McKenzie in addition to a tattoo that he already has.
Other Quotes & Items:
- “I’m more calm storm during the game,” Lovett said. “(Luther Burden III) just play angry the whole game ... I feel like he’s letting the game come to him more and more each game, and as you can see, he’s starting to get more comfortable out there.”
- “I like the high-scoring games because it shows who wants it more,” Lovett said.
- Both Lovett and Cook said they feel good following their big hits last weekend against Kentucky.
- When asked what the transition is like from high school to college, Lovett offered this advice, “I feel like you just got to step back and take a deep breath because wherever you go, there’s going to be some type of adversity.”
- “It’s a common theme for us, but just scoring more touchdowns,” Cook said when asked what some keys are offensively. “We’ve been getting to the red zone ... we just got to score more touchdowns, can’t settle for field goals.”