Missouri fans should feel great right now. Right now it is hard to pinpoint exactly which fanbases in college football should feel good, especially in the SEC. Missouri has not played perfectly out of the gate – that late-game clunker against Middle Tennessee State is still on the books – but the Tigers are undefeated with the league’s best non-conference win.
Yes, there are still question marks. The defense was good but not excellent against Kansas State; the offensive line has been a C-, and gameday management still seems to be a bugaboo for Eli Drinkwitz. But the flip side of those coins: for the first time in a year, the defense did not need to be excellent in order to get a win, the passing game has taken a major step forward, and Drink’s coordinators both appear to be up to the task.
Talent acquisition has been a strength of the Drinkwitz tenure, as has NIL alignment and a cohesive, competitive culture inside the clubhouse. His teams take care of business against lesse foes, even if it is ugly and leads to yelling and screaming in our little corner of the internet. But what was missing was the ability to punch up: the best wins have been over peers Arkansas and South Carolina, and also one each against 2020 LSU and 2021 Florida, both of which were name brand programs but deeply flawed teams.
On Saturday, they finally punched up for real. We needed that, didn’t we? He needed it, and his team needed it, too. Let’s revel in it a little bit before we look ahead to Memphis.
- It felt really good to get a big win like that in a week and a television time slot with little else going on. Let’s be honest, this game would have received about 8th or 9th billing if it happened in Week Two or Four. But this week, with a dearth of competitive Top 25 matchups, Missouri football got to take center stage – and not in a bad way.
- Seeing the passing game expanded and good was such a great feeling. It felt like the moment last year where we realized, “oh…this defense is actually pretty good!” Missouri’s passing attack, led by Brady Cook and Luther Burden, was actually good yesterday against a quality defense. They averaged 9.4 yards per dropback on the day, a 90th percentile output. They ran 11 play action looks, and attempted seven passes beyond 20 yards. Luther Burden was both a bellcow gamebreaker and a gravitational decoy, leading to good days for Theo Wease, Mookie Cooper, and Brett Norfleet. Yes, a tight end was involved! What a delight.
- Combining those two thoughts: it has been a treat seeing the national college football media shower praise on Luther Burden. He is an electric factory, and people are noticing.
Luther Burden continues to dominate— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 16, 2023
- This team is getting good at winning close games. That stretch of early-season disasters last fall is safely in the rear view mirror. Dating back to Thanksgiving last year, three of the last five contests have been close, and the Tigers won all three. (Arkansas, MTSU, Kansas State.)
- That said, I still worry about Drinkwitz’s late game management overall. We have hashed, re-hashed, and thrice-hashed his conservatism on the headset. While fans and analytics disagree with his choices, at least he is making a tough choice: the decision to play for a chip shot field goal at Auburn, or the decision to punt and trust his defense against Middle Tennessee State. These are calls we hate as fans and as analysts but at least they are calls. Watching the play clock evaporate while the team mysteriously stood around was infuriating.
- The tandem cornerbacks of Ennis Rakestraw and Kris Abrams-Draine were excellent yesterday. Each had one visible miscue early, but the Wildcats’ passing game could hardly feature their wide receivers thanks to these two on the perimeter. Daylan Carnell’s stat-stuffing has received a lot of attention in the secondary, but these two are once again quietly excellent. And another highlight was Rakestraw telling the entire Kansas State sideline how he felt about them.
Safe to say Ennis doesn’t like the Wildcats. https://t.co/nqVDn0BnmM— ROCK M NATION (@RockMNation) September 16, 2023
- Now it is time to build on it. It would be very Mizzou to turn around and lose to Memphis in St Louis, wouldn’t it? It is important for the defense to keep developing depth, for the offense to find the right combination up front, and for the passing game to stay at this level. This better not have been a one-time trick in a huge game – show us that you have turned a page. The most winnable games on the remaining schedule are the next two; go take care of business, please. M-I-Z!