This week’s soundtrack? Let’s hit it right on the nose.
The discourse is truly upsetting in Mizzou-land, and we’re all panicking after Mizzou’s unconvincing 23-19 win over Middle Tennessee State, the pride of Murfreesboro. So take a load off, put on your hard data hat and let’s get to seriously analyzing in this week’s Revue.
Who remembers the 2005 animated version of the classic folk tale, Chicken Little? It starred Zack Braff and Joan Cusack? No one? (Editor’s note: I do. I was also an elementary school teacher in ‘05.)
I don’t blame you one bit. The movie, like much of mid-aughts children’s entertainment, is wildly forgettable and mediocre. I can only bring it to mind because I have two children and am constantly looking for any cultural touch points with which to separate them from the Disney IP death machine. Thank god for Bluey, am I right (he said now remembering that Bluey is on Disney+)?
With the theme of the week being cowardice — sorry, Drink, ignoring all the data and punting in extremely favorable conditions is not winning football — I couldn’t help but think of Chicken Little as an apt metaphor for Mizzou’s performance in almost every sense. The actual end product of the story? Mediocre at best, trite and reductive at worst. The overarching feeling it leaves the audience with? Boredom and, if you’re an anxious sort like me, existential dread about the state of the brand. After all, who wants to be the program known for squeaking wins against mid-major opponents because your coach punts on fourth-and-short in positive territory with a pretty decent running game? Not me!
All of that being said, I have to believe that the predominant moral of Chicken Little may also be at play here. And believe me, I’m no better than the most Mizzerable naysayers out there. Here’s a text I sent to my dad after the safety that saw Mizzou’s lead shrink to four.
Of course, this was a bit premature. In retrospect, the Mizzou defense would hold and the Tigers would move to 2-0 even while playing some of the worst football we’ve seen under Eli Drinkwitz. In the cold light of day, there’s an argument that the Tigers, as uninspiring as they’ve been, managed to knock off a feisty Conference USA opponent and have a week to iron out the kinks before their first real opponent of the season comes to play. How much traction that argument gets with you, I’m not sure.
I guess I’m trying to say that our tendency to think the sky is falling — in which we’ve eagerly participated over the past few days! — might be overly dramatic at this stage. Consider that Mizzou got absolutely pummeled by Kansas State last year, only to come within minutes of upsetting the best college football team that has maybe ever existed a few weeks later. Eli Drinkwitz teams, for better and worse, tend to play close in games, and it wouldn’t be much of a shock to see the Tigers compete against the Wildcats this Saturday.
Was it fun? No. Was it entertaining? No. Was it inspiring? No. Did I enjoy any part of it? No.
But maybe the sky isn’t falling just yet. Maybe we just had to sit through a few hours of mediocre slop to get to the better stuff waiting on the other side. At least, that’s what Chicken Little would say at the end of the movie (when he becomes a hero and an optimist, which you’d know if you’ve seen the movie.)
★★☆☆☆ for the win over Middle Tennessee State, ★★☆☆☆ for Chicken Little, which I’m glad exists if only for the fact that my man Steve Zahn got paid
Maybe I’m reaching here, but aside from games in which Mizzou was absolutely pasted, was that the least watchable game in Eli Drinkwitz’s tenure as the Tiger head coach?
I’m struggling to think of any redeeming factors outside of a few individual moments. The offense never gained any traction outside of two drives in the second half. The defense, while it did enough to seal the victory, struggled in coverage and in the trenches and gave up what felt like countless third-and-fourth-and-long scenarios that would’ve been back-breaking against a better opponent. Literally every time the Blue Raiders came to the line on a passing down, I knew they would convert. And I was almost always right.
We’re really going to hammer it home this week, but we have to also mention the punting. Oh, the punting. Look, Mr. Drinkwitz, I don’t watch American Football to see feet actually touch the ball. I forced myself to be a soccer fan for this very reason. I sat through the fallow latter years of St. Louis Rams fandom when Johnny Hekker was the sole (hehe) entertainment draw. I’ve had enough of kicking the football. Call me Kevin Kelley, but I don’t think I ever need to see a punt again after that atrocity exhibition.
Maybe I’m a casual. Maybe I’m only here for flair and a penchant for the dramatic. But there’s a reason I couldn’t give a heck about football prior to the invention of the air raid. Not for me, no thank you. Give me yards, yards, yards. And when you’ve got an elite defense, lean on it. Otherwise, count me out of your Quentin Tarantino-like obsession with centering dirty feet.
For a truly abysmal three hours of television, I award Mizzou Football five punts out of five for watchability.
Disrespectful Play Index
I’ve got bad news for y’all, and you may have already guessed it when headed to this section of the post. “What disrespectful plays were on display in this mediocre effort,” you may ask. And, reader, let me tell you that I am asking myself the same question even as I type this intro.
This was a decidedly milquetoast game, full of white bread game script, white bread execution and white bread intensity. Call this game Pepperidge Farm because it was bland.
I do, however, have to shout out Mizzou’s resident star boy when considering disrespectful moments against the opposition. For as Mizzou stutters at the start of the 2023 season, Luther Burden III has kept on churning out star performances. And he’s all the more pissed off about no one else matching his intensity level.
In case you keep forgetting, here are the categories we’re judging against:
Category 1: How difficult/impressive was the play? (0-20)
Category 2: How hard did the defense try? (0-20)
Category 3: How much did his teammates help? (0-5)
Category 4: What did the player do immediately afterward? (0-20)
Category 5: How did everyone not involved react? (0-15)
Category 6: Is there a backstory/context to consider? (0-20)
For reference, this week’s play starts at 1:30 of the official athletic department highlights.
- Category 1: How difficult/impressive was the play?
This isn’t going to be on Luther Burden’s Hall of Fame highlight reel, but I think it’s indicative of his sheer athleticism and ability to show up any player on any given night.
When Burden receives this ball — maybe thrown a tad behind by Brady Cook, but nothing worth getting upset over — Tra Fluellen (great name!) has him dead to rights. Still a first down pick-up, yes, but we’re looking at a modest seven-yard gain.
The fact that Burden picks up six yards after contact when the defender had this angle on him, speaks massively to his physical abilities. Fact: Luther Burden is faster and stronger than you. Plenty of defenders will find that out the hard way before this season is over. 14/20
- Category 2: How hard did the defense try?
As previously stated, Tra Fluellen (great name!) is all over Burden immediately after the catch and ends up making a good tackle, even if Burden nearly puts him in a coffin beforehand.
The fact that Tra Fluellen (again, great name!) stays with him this long probably speaks to his own technique and discipline, which is great for the sake of our rating! 18/20
- Category 3: How much did his teammates help?
This is all Burden, baby. Why do I feel like I’ve been thinking that a lot these first two weeks? 5/5
- Category 4: What did the player do immediately afterward?
I appreciate that Burden’s newfound consistency hasn’t come at the expense of his attitude on the field. He not only plays like a stone-cold killer, he acts like one too, giving every highlight reel moment the bit of zhuzh it needs.
Here, Burden opts for the standard “first down” indicator upon the completion of the play. The fact that he’s staring right into Rick Stockstill's eyes while he does it gives him a few bonus points.
But I want to draw your attention to No. 5 on your screen. That would be redshirt freshman quarterback DJ Riles, who spends considerable time jawing at Burden as his teammate gets dragged like a rag doll directly in front of him.
You can see that Riles draws Burden’s attention here, a bold and somewhat confusing decision given their difference in status. But, hey, props to the big guy for seeing his chance to jaw with a future NFLer and take it.
Burden, as is befitting a star of his wattage, gives Riles a stern look and (maybe) gives him a little bit back before moving on. Knowing Burden, however, I can’t imagine anything friendly was exchanged here. Add Riles to his Roladex of haters, I suppose, because Burden couldn’t be bothered too much with the likes of a backup QB from CUSA. 17/20
- Category 5: How did everyone not involved react?
Other than DJ Riles, it doesn’t seem like anyone paid Burden much mind on this play. But the fact that Riles drew LB3’s ire is enough for me to award some points here. After all, have you ever received a death glare from a future NFL star? 8/15
- Category 6: Is there a backstory/context to consider?
As I mentioned above, Burden appears to have taken the leap we all wanted from him this season. His brilliance was flashy but sporadic in 2022, and he appears to have taken the necessary steps to become a consistently dominant performer as a sophomore. The fact that this dominance has shone through while the rest of his team flounders puts the limelight squarely on him. Thus far, it hasn’t been too bright. We’ll see how he (and the team) respond when Kansas State comes to town this weekend. 10/20
Luther Burden’s catch was 72 percent disrespectful to Middle Tennessee and 85 percent disrespectful to DJ Riles.
Superlatives and Awards
Best Prospective NIL Deal
I don’t know, y’all, does Riley Williams have a NIL deal with Vegemite or Tim Tams yet? He certainly featured quite a bit in Mizzou’s week two win, so maybe Eli Drinkwitz is trying to get him that key sponsorship before the ship sails?
The Himothy Award for Most “Him” Performance
I spent a lot of time typing words into Chorus wondering how the defensive line would shape up for Mizzou in 2023. And I have to say: This game did not pay me back for those hours of anxious writing!
That being said, Jackson State transfer Nyles Gaddy did his part to continue to JSU emergence in Division I football, tallying two sacks and earning the SEC’s Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week award on Monday.
The Robert Ford Award for Most Cowardly Moment
Conservative play calling from Eli Drinkwitz as #Mizzou is punting from midfield on 4th down.— Brandon Haynes (@BrandonHaynes_) September 9, 2023
A chorus of boos erupt immediately.
Facing fourth and 1 at the MTSU 44 #Mizzou is punting. The fans let Eli Drinkwitz know they are not pleased. I agree with the fans.— Power Mizzou (@PowerMizzoucom) September 10, 2023
I just about threw my laptop in the air when I saw him bring on the punt unit at this point in the game. More like Scaredy Cat Hours, IMO.