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Let Brady Cook: What does a successful season look like for the first-year starter?

What should we expect from the Tigers’ new starting quarterback?

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Brady Cook is an easy story to root for. He’s the in-state kid who never considered out-of-state options. He stuck around despite the coaching staff flirting with external options all offseason. He appears to be the model teammate, and a guy who worked his tail off to get to where he is today.

All of that is great. But what can we expect from him on the football field?

This is a logical question, the follow-up to the feel-good story of Cook’s announcement as the team’s starting quarterback. Heck, it is the question that will ultimately determine the trajectory of Missouri’s season.

No pressure!

Drinkwitz got it wrong with Shawn Robinson in 2020 before quickly (and correctly) reversing course and naming Connor Bazelak the starter. That was different, of course, as Bazelak was returning from a torn ACL. Last year, Drinkwitz stuck with Bazelak despite ample evidence that making a change might be for the best.

Did he get it right this time around? Time will tell. So will the production.

The only SEC school with fewer passing yards per attempt over the last two seasons than Missouri (6.9) are Auburn (6.8), Mississippi Sate (6.5) and Vanderbilt (6.0). The only SEC team with fewer passing touchdowns over the last two seasons than Missouri (27) is Vanderbilt (26).

Bazelak completed a lot of passes, sure, but those completions didn’t tend to gain very many yards and the red zone production was nonexistent. The downfield passing game also left a little something to be desired.

As you can imagine, this has not always been the case with Drinkwitz’s offenses. Let’s take a look back at how Drinkwitz’s quarterbacks have produced in his time as an offensive coordinator/head coach.

Eli Drinkwitz Quarterback Production

Year: QB Name: Class: School: Pass Attemps: Comp %: Pass Yards: Yards/Att: Pass TD: INT: Rush Attempts: Rush Yards: Rush TD:
Year: QB Name: Class: School: Pass Attemps: Comp %: Pass Yards: Yards/Att: Pass TD: INT: Rush Attempts: Rush Yards: Rush TD:
2013 Adam Kennedy SR Ark St. 314 69% 2351 7.5 11 6 153 524 4
2015 Brett Rypien FR Boise St. 428 64% 3350 7.8 20 8 41 -77 1
2016 Ryan Finley SO NC St. 402 60% 3055 7.6 18 8 74 94 1
2017 Ryan Finley JR NC St. 479 65% 3518 7.3 17 6 69 194 3
2018 Ryan Finley SR NC St. 484 67% 3928 8.1 25 11 42 21 1
2019 Zac Thomas JR App St. 359 63% 2718 7.6 28 6 104 436 7
2020 Connor Bazelak FR Missouri 324 67% 2366 7.3 7 6 44 20 2
2021 Connor Bazelak SO Missouri 377 65% 2548 6.8 16 11 33 -23 0
AVG SZN: 396 65% 2979 7.5 18 8 70 148.6 2.4

As you can see, Drinkwitz has worked with a number of different types of quarterbacks over the years. You won’t find two more dissimilar quarterbacks than Zac Thomas and the 2021 version of Bazelak. So, what can we learn from Drinkwitz’s previous history? And what does it tell us about how to set realistic expectations for Cook?

Well, a few things.

Drinkwitz’s quarterbacks throw for a high completion percentage for a reason

Drinkwitz has never had a starting quarterback finish a season with a completion percentage below 60 percent. Much of that is by design. Drinkwitz’s offense is primarily based on the quick passing game, getting the ball into his playmakers’ hands quickly so they can get upfield.

This sample also includes a bit of selection bias. Drinkwitz’s system requires timing and accuracy, so he typically recruits and starts quarterbacks who fit into such a system.

Cook certainly fits the mold, based on the limited sample size we’ve seen. He appears to be an accurate quarterback in he short-to-intermediate levels of the field with the potential to push the ball downfield. A strong completion percentage should be expected.

Expect to see more opportunities for Brady Cook to get involved in the running game

Missouri’s inability (unwillingness?) to get Bazelak involved in the running game over the past two seasons has been a cause of frustration for some of us (myself included). I expect that to change with Cook under center. Cook is an impressive athlete who showed what he can do on the ground in the bowl game against Army.

Drinkwitz isn’t afraid to let his quarterback get involved in the running game, as proven by his stints at Arkansas State and Appalachian State when his quarterbacks racked up a combined 950 yards over two seasons. Adam Kennedy and Zac Thomas combined for 11 rushing touchdowns in 2013 and 2019, a total that is not matched by Drinkwitz’s quarterbacks from his other six seasons as an OC/HC... combined.

One of Cook’s best assets is his ability to run, and I expect him to do so plenty in the upcoming season. There were six starting quarterbacks last season who ran for at least 200 yards on the ground. I suspect Cook will add his name to that list this season.

Can Brady Cook be Eli Drinkwitz’s next Ryan Finley?

This is only the second time Drinkwitz has been at one school for at least three consecutive seasons since he earned the title as an offensive coordinator. Last go around, he had Ryan Finley as his starting quarterback. Finley had a similar profile to that of Cook. He was listed as a 3-star pro-style quarterback coming out of Phoenix when he committed to Boise State. He followed Drinkwitz to NC State where he became a 3-year starter and threw for more passing yards than any ACC quarterback in the last 60 years not named Philip Rivers, Kenny Pickett or Tajh Boyd. Not bad!

Finley was more athletic than he probably gets credit for, and he added value both through the air and on the ground. He also had a wide array of weapons at his disposal. Over his time at NC State, he threw to the likes of Jaylen Samuels, Nyheim Hines, Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers - all of whom went on to have NFL careers.

Missouri has upgraded its wide receiver room in a big way over the last two years with the hopes that it can build a supporting cast to prop up Cook as he continues to develop. In a best-case scenario, Cook and Luther Burden would become at Missouri what Finley and Harmon became at NC State.

So, what can we expect?

Is it acceptable for me to give a big *shrug emoji*? Or is that frowned upon? My honest answer is that it’s nearly impossible to know what we can expect from Cook. It might be as likely Cook is the backup to Sam Horn by week 10 as it is that he earns the long-term starting job based upon his performance. That’s not a shot across the bow so much as it is a reminder of how difficult it is to succeed at the hardest position in sports in the hardest college football league in the land.

That being said, I do believe it is realistic to expect Cook to put up numbers similar to what Finley posted in his first year as the starter at NC State in 2016 when he completed 60 percent of his passes for more than 3,000 yards (7.6 yards per attempt), 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions. I do think it’s fair to expect more production on the ground than Finley produced that season, though, possibly around 250-300 yards on the season. In essence, production resembling Blaine Gabbert’s 2010 season at Mizzou.

Projecting a quarterback is difficult. It’s hard to know how they’ll react when the bullets start flying. Here’s to hoping they #LetBradyCook.