Year Three of the Eliah Drinkwitz era has now concluded. There were most certainly some ups, and more than certainly some downs. Tiger fans were kept on the edge of their seats (for better or worse) throughout this season, and it ended with a 6-7 record and a 27-17 Gasparilla Bowl loss to Wake Forest.
There is a lot to unpack from this 2022 campaign. From the development of Brady Cook, to Blake Baker’s stingy defense, to the chronicles of Luther Burden III and Dominic Lovett, there are plenty of storylines to discuss. Let’s take a look at what went down and where this program stands heading into 2023.
Points Per Game: 24.9
Passing Yards Per Game: 212.92
Rushing Yards Per Game: 154.7
Total Touchdowns Scored: 37
Total Plays Ran: 885
Total First Downs: 241
Average Penalty Yards Per Game: 63.7
Time Of Possession Per Game: 31:05
3rd Down Conversions: 39.38%
4th Down Conversions: 50.0%
Red-Zone Attempts/Scores: 38/47
Opponent Points Per Game: 25.15
Opponent Passing Yards Per Game: 215.3
Opponent Rushing Yards Per Game: 125.5
Touchdowns Allowed: 41
Opponent 3rd Down Conversion: 34.41%
Opponent 4th Down Conversion: 63.2%
Red Zone Attempts/Scores: 35/40
The 3 Stars
Isaiah McGuire | Defensive End
Stats: 40 tackles, 14 TFLs, 8.5 sacks
After a gradual improvement throughout his career, McGuire played his best football in his final year. He put his pass-rushing skills on display all year long, and with his 6’4”, 274 lb. frame, he has plenty of potential at the next level. On top of that, McGuire was a true leader for this team and made countless big plays during the course of the season. He, along with a plethora of others on the D-line, revitalized the “D-line Zou” mantra in Columbia.
Dominic Lovett | Wide Receiver
2022 Stats: 56 catches, 846 yards, 3 TDs
Despite his transfer at the end of the season, Lovett was still a star for this team. In his second season on campus, Lovett took the top off opposing defenses with his big-play ability. He and Brady Cook had a great connection throughout the year, and Lovett made plenty of incredibly important plays throughout the season. Although I wish he was still with the Tigers, I wish him the best of luck at Georgia next fall.
Ty’Ron Hopper | Outside Linebacker
Stats: 77 total tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 4 pass breakups
The Florida transfer came in with a fair bit of hype, and he somehow exceeded it. Hopper was a force to be reckoned with all season long, causing havoc all over the field as the ringleader of the Blake Baker defense. He set the tone for this defense with a 6 tackle, 2 TFL performance in the opener against Louisiana Tech, and he continued to jump off the screen over the course of the season.
Surprise Player of the Year
Cody Schrader | Running Back
Stats: 170 carries, 746 yards, 9 TDs, 137 receiving yards
The transfer from Truman State became a fan-favorite this season. Schrader gradually took over the starting duties in the backfield after a couple of impressive performances against Georgia and Vanderbilt, and he never looked back. He ran with noticeable violence and toughness that was great to see, and he always fell forward for a couple extra yards when he was tackled. His leg drive and vision remain his strengths, but Schrader got better with every game this season and is sure to be a major contributor again in 2023. After just wanting to make a name for himself on special teams to start the season, Cody Schrader became the feel-good story of the 2022 Missouri Tigers.
29-27 Win Over Arkansas
MVP: Brady Cook (242 passing yards, 138 rushing yards, 2 TDs)
The South Carolina win was sweet and came at a much-needed time, but nothing can top beating your rival to clinch a bowl berth in the final game of the season. The part that made this game so special, however, was how it happened.
Brady Cook had struggled for much of the season, but he played his best game on this day. Arkansas was fresh off a 42-27 win over then-No. 14 Ole Miss, but they didn’t look like it on Black Friday. The Tigers had lost a host of close games over the course of the season, but they finally won one against the Razorbacks. All the narratives seemed to support Mizzou for the first time this season, and it allowed them to make the postseason and right (nearly) all the wrongs of the 2022 season.
Seems appropriate Brady Cook would score on Thanksgiving weekend. pic.twitter.com/1DWJuX634U— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 25, 2022
21-17 Loss To Kentucky
I was certainly torn. It’s hard to get worse than an Auburn game in which the right Tigers were inches away from winning (TWICE), but losing to Kentucky just seems to sting in a different way.
The win over No. 25 South Carolina seemed to be the first domino in the turnaround of Missouri’s season. A home date with Kentucky lined up perfectly to be the next quality win to truly change the momentum. Ever since Missouri have joined the conference, the Wildcats have been a thorn in their side and broke the hearts of Mizzou fans many times. On this day, they did exactly that.
The roughing the punter call is one that will remain in all of our heads for a while, as will the consistent badgering of Mizzou players from the Kentucky sideline. But, Will Levis played one of his better games of the year and diced up the Missouri secondary in the first half, and Mizzou was 2-for-13 on third downs in this game. Add in two turnovers, and you can see the multitude of reasons this was an L in the record book.
It was a loss that stung because it seemed to greatly harm any hopes of making a bowl game, but more so because, yet again, the Tigers had lost a close one.
- D-line Zou is back in Columbia. Blake Baker’s defensive front was dominant all season-long, and they have the talent in place to maintain that for the extent of his tenure.
- Brady Cook improved steadily throughout this season and finally appeared comfortable at the end. He has potential if given the time and appropriate surrounding pieces, although he is going to have to win the job all over again this offseason.
- The offensive line needs a facelift through transfers or freshman this offseason. The O-line was the biggest issue on this team many times throughout the season, and it hurt the entire offense.
- Skill position talent is alive and well in Columbia. Luther Burden III, Theo Wease, Jr., Mekhi Miller and Cody Schrader should lead a strong group of playmakers next season.
- Baker has a tough task in replacing some major talent next season, but he has the culture he wants and plenty of potential waiting in the midst. He may go down as one of the best hires in Missouri football history if he can put together another season like 2022.
- The offense appeared to excel when Drinkwitz had help from Bush Hamdan calling plays late in the regular season. TBD on if the play-calling duties change next season, because if they don’t, that may be the main reason fans call for Drinkwitz’s job.
- Harrison Mevis took a slight step back, but he still has an NFL-caliber leg.
- Drinkwitz knows how to turn a season around. Make it two straight years that he’s had a team go from 3-4 to bowling. His teams fight hard every game and do not fold even when the outside noise and pressure is at its worst.
- Speaking on the character of this team, through press conferences it was clear that they were a tight-knit group. They openly said this was the most comfortable and fun year of Drinkwitz’s tenure, but they also seemed to deeply care about this team. Losing all of those close games hurt them, but they stayed the course and were rewarded.
- Close losses became the narrative of the 2022 season, as this group could have been an 8-9 win team with just a couple of plays going their way. Can they turn that around next season?
Now, we move on to next season. Drinkwitz recently signed an extension through the 2027 season, meaning that this athletic department is with him for the long haul. The Tigers currently have the No. 31 overall 2023 recruiting class and the No. 39 overall transfer class (via 24/7 Sports). He has a sub-.500 record (17-19) with the Tigers, yet Drinkwitz has put this team in a bowl game in every one of his seasons at the helm.
Still, this program is on the cusp of accomplishing so much more…if they can make some key adjustments.
For me, it starts with the offensive line. Far more so than Brady Cook, that unit held this offense back in 2022. They need to add some depth over this offseason, and quality depth at that.
On top of that, it will be interesting to see how Drinkwitz approaches play-calling next season. After loosening his grip on the leash later in the season, the offense appeared to flourish. Will he consider hiring an offensive coordinator? Or at least adjusting the play-calling responsibilities?
Outside of that, there’s a lot to like with this team entering next season. Cook appeared to play his best football at the end of the season, even though the finish to the bowl game was less-than-ideal.
With another full offseason, he should only be better in 2023. He’ll have a plethora of weapons to utilize out wide, and the running game should be improved with Schrader getting to work as a starter all offseason. Still, I would not rule out a transfer being brought in to push Cook for the starting job in the offseason to spark this offense.
The defense will have some retooling to do, especially in the front seven, but with Kris Abrams-Draine, Ennis Rakestraw, Jr. and Daylan Carnell returning, Baker has a solid core to work with. If they can hit the portal to fill some voids and see some guys develop (Johnny Walker, Arden Walker, etc.), this should be another solid unit in 2023.
The schedule is lighter overall, with Kansas State coming to Columbia and a bye week deeper into the season. Still, Mizzou pulls LSU from the West and will have to go to Athens, Fayetteville and Lexington.
An increase in wins is expected and likely needed for Drinkwitz to keep his job, but playing in the SEC is a constant battle. The Tigers have struggled to keep their head above water these past two years, drowning at certain points of the season. They can’t afford that again in 2023.
As of now, I’ll tab them at 7-5, but that will surely change throughout the offseason. K-State (home), Florida (home), Kentucky (away), South Carolina (home) and Arkansas (away) will represent another host of swing games that will likely cause great heartache and ecstasy for Mizzou fans everywhere.
Here’s to a 2022 Missouri season that had every twist and turn you could possibly imagine, and to a 2023 campaign that is sure to bring plenty more.