Welcome back to “Five Plays”, where I’ll break down the previous week’s football game in, you guessed it, five plays. Over the past ten seasons, the average college football team has run around 70-73 plays per game, but most of them don’t matter as much as others. Oftentimes, there’s a select few that can tell the story of an entire game, and I’m here to break them down. To the film room!
One meme recap to describe Mizzou’s 33-31 victory over Florida:
Here’s a passage from the above video which, by the way, has been viewed 50 million times (!) since it was posted eight years ago (!!):
“Some people dream of success, while you’re gonna wake up and work HARD at it. Nothing is impossible! You should get to the point where anyone else would quit, and you’re not gonna stop there.”
That right there is 2023 Mizzou football.
There are lots of quotes, words and sayings that represent this season’s campaign. Although the most common one has been “Something to Prove”, the passage from Shia LeBeouf is also applicable. The reason? It embodied the journey Mizzou football has gone through over the past few seasons, specifically the experiences of the seniors who were honored on Saturday night.
“This game is like the story of their career,” Drinkwitz said. “Having to face so much adversity, come from behind, stick together, believe in each other, fight for each other. I don’t know how much more to say than that.”
The likes of Darius Robinson, Kris Abrams-Draine, Ennis Rakestraw Jr. and several others have, at some point in their Mizzou careers, been at the bottom. Many have folded once they’ve arrived at the bottom.
Not this team.
Especially on a night celebrating those who'd emerged from the bottom, the Tigers weren’t about to let adversity win out.
And they didn’t.
Behind timely explosive plays on offense and late-game heroics, Mizzou survived a thriller against Florida. Here are five plays that defined the happy senior sendoff for the Tigers.
Play #1: Mevis is money in the clutch (again)
Apologies for the heaps of external media, but watch the first 1:29 of this First Take segment from 2019 where Max Kellerman explained why he’d rather have Andre Iguodala take the last shot of a game than Stephen Curry:
Two things. One, Mevis has been more consistent than the likes of Luis Sojo and Billy Martin. Two, Kellerman saying that he’d rather have Iguodala take the last shot over Curry isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. Curry is the greatest shooter that’s ever touched a basketball, but Iguodala’s highlight reel in the clutch is fairly extensive.
Nevertheless, the point Kellerman made regarding what made Sojo and Martin special applies to Mevis. Despite Mevis not being the best or most consistent player at his position, he always comes through when his team needs him the most. The daunting aura of pressure that permeates so many athletes in crunch time doesn’t seem to affect Mevis at all.
Sure enough, with the fate of Mizzou’s New Year’s Six bowl-aspiring universe on the line, Mevis kept the dream alive with one swift boot of the pigskin.
In his final career game at Faurot Field, it only seemed right for Mevis to knock through a game-winning kick.
“It’s what they brought me here to do,” Mevis said.
However, the kick wouldn’t have been possible without a little help from his friends.
Play #2: Two non-seniors save Senior Night
The drive that set up Mevis’ game-winner against Kansas State and the one that set up his game-winner against Florida started in similar situations. Both instances saw Mizzou’s offense needing to gain about 40 yards in less than 90 seconds with one timeout.
However, the mountain against the Gators felt a lot more daunting than the one against the Wildcats. Against KSU, Cook & Co methodically moved the ball down the field with short passes. Something that also kept the Tigers churning was the fact that they stayed ahead of the sticks; they only faced one third down on that drive, which they converted with a nine-yard pass to Theo Wease Jr. Also, the game was tied; a failure to score wasn’t the end of the world, especially considering that K-State was considered to be the superior opponent at the time.
This past Saturday was a little different. Mizzou was down one to a team they were favored to beat. Not only that, they’d dug themselves into a deep hole. After a false start on Armand Membou and two incompletions in a row, the Tigers needed to convert a fourth-and-17 or lots of things would sadly end. A 10-win regular season, a NY6 bowl and a happy sendoff for the seniors would all vanish.
At this point in the game, Florida had a 99.9% chance of winning. Was that number 100? Didn’t think so.
Allowing Luther Burden to convert a 4th and 17 with the game on the line is complete negligence.— Clint Cosgrove (@Rivals_Clint) November 19, 2023
The entire stadium knew the ball was going to the of CoMopic.twitter.com/2E9wSRV8xX
Here, we see the perils of playing passive defense.
First, Florida’s four-man rush couldn’t get home quick enough, as Cook had time to survey the field and get off a clean throw. Now, it’s not like UF should’ve sent a Cover 0 blitz or something of that nature; the Buffalo Bills tried that against the Denver Broncos last Monday night, and it worked...poorly. Nonetheless, the lack of pressure did not help the Gators here.
Secondly, UF’s secondary let Mizzou’s wideouts run unobstructed down the field. Again, an understandable call, considering that all they needed to do was not allow a 17-yard gain. The natural instinct is to ensure that no receivers get behind you (if you want to see how that could end poorly, the ending of Georgia Tech-Miami from earlier this season is a perfect example).
However, in that sort of coverage, the DBs need to communicate matchups once the opposing receivers enter their zones...which clearly didn’t happen here. Burden found a soft spot and made the catch uncontested. The dream remained alive.
After a pair of completions to Mekhi Miller and Mookie Cooper, Mevis booted home the winning field goal. It wouldn’t have been possible, however, without the small miracle between Cook and Burden.
Play #3: A massive fumble recovery
In close games, turnovers and taking advantage of red zone opportunities become more important. In Mizzou’s two losses to LSU and Georgia, for example, the opposition performed better than the Tigers in at least one of those categories amidst a close contest.
On Saturday, those same issues arose. Mizzou made five trips inside of Florida’s 30-yard line and came away with just one touchdown. The other four opportunities? All field goals. While three is greater than zero, it’s also less than seven. The Tigers left a handful of points on the board.
On the other side of the ball, Florida found greater success in the red zone on one fewer opportunity. They found the end zone twice and kicked a field goal. That ended up mattering a good bit!
However, their one empty trip proved to be extremely costly. Subbing in for an injured Graham Mertz, Max Brown attempted a handoff out of the shotgun.
It did not go well for Mr. Brown.
In a game that saw Mizzou’s defense struggle mightily, a goof by Florida was especially welcome. It had a similar feeling to the fake punt against Kentucky; in a moment that felt like the opposition was set to take control, something wonky fell in Mizzou’s favor that completely shifted momentum.
The dropped handoff was also reminiscent of Stetson Bennett IV and Daijun Edwards’ botched handoff in Mizzou’s near-upset of Georgia last season. With the opposition driving, an oopsie on a handoff gave the Tiger defense a major break.
This time around, however, the Tigers didn’t turn the takeaway into just three points. Rather, they got seven just two plays later on one of the more surprising lightning strikes of the season.
Play #4: Theo Wease? More like Lightning Mc...Quease. I’m going to take a walk now.
Throughout this season, Theo Wease has established himself as the jump ball buff of Mizzou’s wide receiver room, the top guy when the ball’s high in the sky. Sure, he’d flashed above-average ability after the catch, but he made most of his money dunking on opposing defensive backs.
Then, just as momentum had surprisingly swung in favor of the Tigers, another surprise arose in Wease flying down the right sideline for a touchdown. I guess it wasn’t just Darius Robinson saving something special for senior night.
Mr. Wease, in the words of Shaquille O’Neal, I owe you an apology. I wasn’t familiar with (this part of) your game.
However, it wasn’t just Wease that made this play happen. Cook did a nice job of not forcing anything and getting the ball to an open Wease in the flat. Then, watch Mookie Cooper and Luther Burden pave the way with exceptional blocks on the outside. 10/10, chef’s kiss, no notes.
The electric catch-and-run completed what was arguably a 14-point swing in the span of less than a minute. In a game as tight as this one, a swing as large as that one is huge.
Play #5: Under the night sky, Cody Schrader finds daylight
It’d only be fitting to cap off this edition of “Five Plays” with the guy who arguably embodies the spirit of the 2023 Mizzou football team the most.
After a record-setting performance against Tennessee last week, Schrader followed it up with another masterful showing on the ground. His 148 rushing yards made it four consecutive games with over 100 yards on the ground, the first time a Mizzou running back has accomplished that feat since Henry Josey in 2011.
His finest scamper of the night came early on when he found a gaping hole on the left side and took off like it was his last collegiate home game.
It’s getting repetitive at this point, but the offensive line performed exceptionally once again, and this play was an accurate representation of it.
Graduates Javon Foster and Xavier Delgado win their matchups, which opens up the lane that Schrader wastes no time hitting. He took about one singular moment to see what he had available before planting his right foot and entering sixth gear. For a guy who’s used to trucking and bruising his way through not just football games, but his football journey as well, seeing Schrader run free was elating for all familiar with his story.