This Missouri team has a real chance to end up being special and restoring order after eight seasons of OK but not, “Oh yeah, this team could really do something” type of play. The Tigers are one of three remaining undefeated teams in the conference, along with Georgia and Kentucky, and own their highest AP ranking since week two of the 2015 season.
I always say that statistics don’t mean anything but can help tell the story of games, so here are five important numbers from Missouri’s 17-point victory in the Music City.
Missouri needed one against Kansas State and got it. Next week against Memphis, it happened again. Then, on Saturday at Vanderbilt, Kris Abrams-Draine perfectly placed himself to intercept a poorly thrown ball by Ken Seals in the end zone.
During NFL’s Primetime in the 1990s, Chris Berman and Tom Jackson had a famous quote with Cris Carter saying, “All he does is catch touchdowns.” For Abrams-Draine, it’s, “All he does is catch interceptions,” which you can see around the 2:30 mark in this video.
The Missouri secondary has had its ups and downs throughout the 2023 season with injuries, coverage issues, and penalties, which have been exhibited over these past couple of weeks. But one stable and consistent piece has been Abrams-Draine. The Pro Football Focus numbers align with the eye test. Abrams-Draine’s 83.6 overall defensive grade places him third among all FBS cornerbacks, while his 87.8 coverage grade is eighth.
He’s the first Tiger to record three straight interceptions in three consecutive games since Zaviar Gooden. He did it during the last two games of the 2011 season (Kansas and North Carolina), and the season opener in 2012 (Southeast Louisiana State). Abrams-Draine also leads the SEC in passes defended (6), which is eighth in the NCAA, while his trio of picks places him fourth in the nation and second in the conference behind Jaylin Simpson of Auburn. Savor every last moment of watching Abrams-Draine in a black and gold uniform because his time of playing on Sundays is coming soon.
50% 3rd down conversions
After two weeks of abysmal performances on third down, Missouri bounced back by going 50% (6-12) on third downs against Vanderbilt, after going a combined 3-21 against K-State and Memphis. Through five games, Missouri’s offense is more successful on third down compared to the start of 2022. Part of this is because the Tigers have been in third down situations less often but have still converted around the same amount.
Mizzou on third down through first five games (2022): 23-69 (33%)
Mizzou on third down through first five games (2023): 22-56 (39%)
One thing that is noticeable thing this year is that Missouri has scored seven touchdowns on third down, equaling roughly 32% of the time in that situation. They did it just five times the entire 2022 season. Aside from a Brady Cook sneak against Middle Tennessee State, six scores are through the air.
Against Vanderbilt, Luther Burden III, and Theo Wease Jr., we’re absolutely money on third down. Burden helped set up Missouri’s first score with a 27-yard gain on a 3rd and 7, before scoring from 18 and 17 yards out on third and long situations. Wease put the Tigers up double-digits before the break on a back-shoulder fade before half on third and goal from the 10.
Thank you, Burden and Wease.
326 consecutive completions without “OSKIE!!!!”
346 days ago, a Vanderbilt Commodore picked off Brady Cook for his seventh interception of the season. It’s fresh in his mind when asked.
“I remember it very clearly, very clearly,” Cook said. “Rolling out to the right on a little zone replay and I was in between throwing the ball away and just kind of giving Cody Schrader a chance and it was just awful, that interception I’ll never forget.”
Harrison Mevis put his name at the top of the record book two weeks ago, and Missouri’s starting quarterback has done the same thing in the same season. Somewhere during Missouri’s 17-point win at Vandy, Cook broke Andre Woodson’s record with the most consecutive completions without an interception at 326.
This is an impressive feat, considering the abundance of riches of quarterbacks this conference has seen over the past 30 years. Cook is 63 attempts from the all-time FBS of most consecutive attempts without a pick. He’s averaging over 34 attempts per game over the last three, so let’s say by the Kentucky game, if he still hasn’t thrown an interception, we could be celebrating another big accomplishment.
Cook earned PFF honors this week, making this week’s matchup one of the more intriguing this week.
Highest graded Quarterbacks from Week 5 pic.twitter.com/z7uVrfzmSm— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 2, 2023
10 Quarterback hits
We already know that Missouri’s defensive front is legit, and no quarterback felt the wrath worse than Seals in his first start with the Commodores this season. In all, and without Darius Robinson’s presence, the death row defense recorded a season-high 10 quarterback hits on Seals, almost doubled than the six they put on Will Howard in week three.
The icing on the cake for the front seven unit that gave up 2.1 yards per rush came as Austin Firestone beat Gunnar Hansen on a 4th and 8 to put away Mizzou’s seven-point victory. Firestone has been buried in the depth of the defensive line unit, but finally made an impactful play for his first collegiate sack.
The ultimate and most important number: 5-0
After Cook took a knee and the final seconds ticked down on Vanderbilt’s makeshift scoreboard, Missouri moved to 5-0 for the first time since 2013. This already puts the 2023 squad in a special group, as it joins the 2013 team as one of 11 teams in program history to win its first five games. The previous nine teams to do it ended up winning no fewer than eight games. Six of them saw either a conference title or a division championship.
The two before were the 1899 and 1905 teams that finished 9-2-1 and 5-4 over 100 years ago.
Of course, it’s not about how you start but how you finish. Missouri still has LSU, Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida on its schedule. But it has already beaten South Dakota, who just knocked off North Dakota State: Kansas State, and a decent Memphis team. History is on Missouri’s side, but the train needs to keep rolling and it starts with an 11 am date with the Bayou Bengals on Saturday.