There are always things you can improve, but it’s hard to imagine this Missouri team could have made a bigger statement with its 2022 season debut than it did against Louisiana Tech. Good teams win, great teams cover. And the Tigers, I’ll be damned, found a way to cover.
Enough of the prelude. Let’s get to the takeaways, shall we?
1) Welcome to the Luther Burden III Show
Luther Burden III is the highest rated Missouri commit in a decade. He was rated as one of the five best high school players in the country. He has his own bag of chips. And he somehow exceeded even the wildest expectations in his Mizzou debut.
Burden’s final line doesn’t jump off the page, but his playmaking ability jumped off the screen. He finished with two receptions for 12 yards and four carries for 31 yards. He also added two touchdowns, for good measure.
Burden did it all. He saved a near-interception on an out route by out-working the defender and turned upfield for 15 yards. He made two men miss on a swing pass he caught three yards behind the line-of-scrimmage and dragged two defenders three yards to fall into he end zone. He took direct snaps and punched the ball into the end zone.
Imagine being one of the top recruits in the country and exceeding every possible expectation in your debut.— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) September 2, 2022
That’s what Luther Burden has done tonight. My goodness. Special. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/edwukOydhk
Eli Drinkwitz told reporters this summer the coaching staff realized what it had in Burden during spring ball, and started working up new ways to get him the football in unique ways. We saw some of those plays on Thursday night. I have a strong suspicion we’ll see even more next week at Kansas State.
2) The New Guys are Alright
The transfer portal has completely altered our ability to reasonably project teams going into the season. Missouri, for example, came into this game with six transfers in he starting lineup, and another five expected to contribute. How those players would contribute in a new system and in a new situation was anyone’s guess. After our first glimpse, it looked pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Let’s start with the transfer who announced his presence with authority, even if it took longer than expected for him to enter the game: Nate Peat. The Columbia native finished with 10 offensive touches for a combined 90 yards and a touchdown. He is - by a sizable margin - the best running back on the roster. He has an ability to run through contact the other running backs simply have not shown, and his speed is on another level. That’s going to be critical as competition takes a step up.
It’s pretty clear to me after watching three quarters that Nate Peat is the best runner on this team. pic.twitter.com/QM3fhBBbVk— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) September 2, 2022
The transfer love continues beyond Peat. Ty’Ron Hopper led the team in tackles (6), tied for the team lead in sacks (1), tackles-for-loss (2) and interceptions (1). He was an absolute nightmare for the Louisiana Tech offense, running sideline-to-sideline and impacting the game both against the run and the pass. His speed jumps off the screen in a way we haven’t seen from a Missouri linebacker since we saw Terez Hall on a week-to-week basis.
Joseph Charleston made some plays on the ball Missouri’s defensive backs struggled to make a year ago. Jayden Jernigan had a huge sack in the second half. Kristian Williams was a disruptor from the interior, deflecting a pass that resulted in an interception. Truman State running back transfer Cody Schrader is a great story, and looks the par of a contributor even if he’s not an SEC caliber starting running back.
It’s tough to find a handful of instant impact players through the portal, and it appears Missouri was able to do exactly that.
Now, please start Peat at running back next week, Drink.
3) Brady Cook: As Advertised
Brady Cook’s stat line won’t jump off the page, but I was actually quite impressed with his performance. He finished the game 18-for-27 for 195 yards and added seven carries for 60 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He threw an interception, but I think that was more on Burden than Cook. It was a crosser that had a good amount of mustard on it, but it’s a catch Burden knows he should make, and he will make it more often than not.
This INT is frustrating, but it’s not on the QB. pic.twitter.com/oYorv6Pz8l— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) September 2, 2022
What impressed me about Cook, though, was his ability to extend the play with his legs. There were multiple instances in which he escaped pressure, bought some time, and threw a strike to an open receiver down the field. This was a serious problem for the Tigers with Connor Bazelak last season. He simply didn’t have the ability to buy himself extra time. If the play wasn’t there right away, then the play was over. That also led to some costly interceptions with Bazelak throwing the ball up for grabs in order to avoid taking a hit.
Absolutely love seeing this play from Cook. Escapes pressure, finds the open man. He’s gonna have to do this to have success in the SEC, because the OL is going to need some work. pic.twitter.com/jh0LdEIYHF— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) September 2, 2022
The test gets tougher from here. Cook has plenty left to prove. He’s going to have to show against teams such as Kansas State that he can avoid pressure against high level power five competition. But he passed his first test as the team’s starting quarterback, and that’s significant.
4) Run the ball? Check. Stop the run? Also check!
Did you know Thursday was the first time Missouri rushed the ball for 320 yards in a game since November of 2017 against Tennessee? I don’t care who you’re facing, that’s impressive. The Tigers rushed the ball for an average of 6.4 yards per carry. Nearly one-third of Missouri’s rushing attempts (51) resulted in a first down (16). Only eight of their runs were “stuffed” for no gains or a loss of yards. The offensive line definitely had some moments in which it struggled, but overall it was a successful night for the running game.
Maybe more importantly was Missouri’s ability to shut down the Louisiana Tech running game. The Bulldogs finished with 22 carries for... 11 yards. That’s the lowest rushing yardage output by a Missouri opponent since 2009 (Colorado). Disclaimer: Louisiana Tech is running a Sonny Cumbie offense known for its quick passing game being used as an extension of he running game. I, frankly, don’t care. Missouri’s defense didn’t have this in them a year ago. This was different. Will they hold every team they face to fewer than a yard per carry? Of course not. But at least they showed they are capable of holding up against the run. That was, umm, not the case last season.
5) It’s okay to feel yourself getting excited after that win
It’s Louisiana Tech. I get it. I’ve made sure to mention that throughout for a reason. You don’t wan to get too excited about a win against a team that finished last season 3-9 and looked like a team that might have a similar record in 2022. However, Missouri just beat the heck out of them. This was not close. Nine of Missouri’s final 12 possessions reached the red zone (six TD, 1 FG, 2 turnovers). Missouri’s starting defense allowed an average of 3.5 yards per play through the first three quarters. They caused three turnovers and held Louisiana Tech to 4-for-13 on third downs.
It was not all perfect. The Bulldogs had a couple big plays in the passing game that were a result of coverage breakdowns. The offensive line needs some work. The Tigers racked up 100 yards in penalties. The defensive line is going to need to get some more pressure off the edge. Those are all things that will be the focus in future weeks. But, for now, the Tigers are 1-0. They beat their first opponent by four scores and had such a significant lead that the backups were in the game for the majority of the fourth quarter.
There’s plenty to be excited about. Who knows what’s in store the rest of the season. For right now, let’s celebrate the first win of the season and the fact that football is back in all of our lives.