Bowl games don’t really matter, right?
That’s what we’re supposed to say when your team loses in a random Bowl game anyway. The excuses are built in. Long layoffs, the transfer portal, NFL opt outs. Those all exist. The offensive line, a problem all year long, got worse through the portal attrition and late season injuries. Your best offensive player, Dominic Lovett, entered the portal. Possibly your best defensive player, Isaiah McGuire, sat out to prepare for the NFL draft.
But if Mizzou had won this game there would be a different song being sung. There’d be talk about momentum, finishing over .500, how this team saved their season after a disastrous start.
Bowl games do matter, however. For one, even though the bar has been lowered it’s still important to make a Bowl game. But the game itself is important because it provides you with more data points, more time to review progress. More time to see younger players and their development. And the fact of the matter here is that Mizzou has not made enough progress.
It’s fine to lose a Bowl game. It’s fine to win one too (despite the fact that Mizzou hasn’t won one since 2014). But if you’re going to lose, it would be nice to lose in a more interesting and unique way. Mizzou Football over the last few years seems to basically play the same game with the same result most of the time. So if watching the game felt familiar it probably was.
The recipe this season is an exciting defense built around aggression and speed, coupled with an offense that doesn’t do enough. Whether it’s a Quarterback who misses a lot of throws, an offensive line which gets that Quarterback crushed, a running game without explosiveness, or Wide Receivers who don’t make enough plays. Most of this comes down to the offensive line, the Quarterback, and the play caller. A good offensive line will give the Quarterback more time to make decisions and help establish the running game. A better Quarterback can make some plays that aren’t there. But the play caller has to put his players in the best position to make the plays they can make.
Far too often Drinkwitz seems incapable of making those calls. He’s done it in the past, but managing the entire team during the game has led to some predictability and mostly boring and uncreative play calling. When Bush Hamdan was calling plays the last three games, it worked a little better because Hamdan was doing his best to help Brady Cook. There were a lot fewer of the throws Brady struggled with, and more of the throws he can make. More heavy protections, fewer outside zone reads. There was a focus on keeping the playbook streamlined to what a young team with a leaky offensive line could accomplish.
Against Wake it felt like the same game plan Mizzou ran out there during the first half of the season.
This is why bowl games matter, because it shows us what you’ve learned. So I’m not sure what Drinkwitz has learned about his team at this stage.
The good news is there’s a full offseason of work to accomplish. The transfer portal can accelerate improvement. But Eli Drinkwitz needs to get to work on fixing his offense and that starts with finding an offensive play caller who is creative. And they let him work the way he’s let Blake Baker work. In one offseason Blake Baker was able to fix the Mizzou Defense. That kind of remake on the offensive end will make this ugly, sloppy, and kind of boring loss to Wake Forest worth it.