Missouri completed a 4-0 start to the season with a 34-27 win over Memphis (3-1) at The Dome at America’s Center on Saturday.
One of the main storylines entering this game: How would Brady Cook follow up a 356 yard, 2 touchdown performance against Kansas State last week?
The answer: by beginning this game 11-for-11 for 231 yards and a touchdown. The St. Louis native battled through a knee injury in practice this week and donned a brace in this game, but he played like he was 100% in his return to his hometown.
“I keep saying that he is the toughest kid that I have ever met,” Cody Schrader said. “That kid is Mizzou’s quarterback.”
The Tiger offense hummed along thanks to Cook’s efficiency, with Luther Burden III being the main benefactor in the first half. A fellow St. Louisian, Burden racked up 113 receiving yards in the opening frame, eclipsing the century mark for the third time this season.
“Me and Brady were on point tonight,” Burden said. “All the work we did in the spring is paying off.”
The offensive fireworks began with a 76-yard strike from Cook to freshman receiver Marquis Johnson, which was reminiscent of the bomb to Burden that got things started against K-State last weekend. The coaching staff had talked about wanting to get Johnson more involved after the opening weeks, and the fastest player on the team (according to Mookie Cooper) has made the most of his opportunities during the past two games.
“We gotta throw him the ball more; sucker is fast as lightning” Eliah Drinkwitz said. “We got to continue to find ways to get him the ball vertically down the field.”
Memphis responded with a field goal, and a Cody Schrader fumble inside the Mizzou 10-yard line set the visitors up with plenty of momentum at their backs. Seth Henigan found Joseph Scates on a well-timed fade route, and a quick 10-point swing put Memphis ahead with 2:15 left in the first quarter.
“Even though I fumbled, they [the coaches] didn’t take me out of the game and Brady and everybody came to pick me up,” Schrader said of the fumble. “I think it’s a testament to what type of brotherhood we have.”
Mizzou delivered a counter-punch, driving down the field behind the arm of Cook and the elusiveness of Burden yet again. The pair continued to torch Ryan Silverfield’s defense through the middle of the field, and after a couple of chunk plays, Nathaniel Peat capped off a nine-play, 75-yard drive with a one yard touchdown run to put Mizzou ahead 14-10.
Following another Memphis punt, Cook orchestrated a four minute drive that resulted in a 25-yard field goal from Harrison Mevis.
Early in the third quarter, Missouri had a chance to truly ice this one. After Cook led yet another efficient drive that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown to Theo Wease Jr. on a corner route, Kris Abrams-Draine ran stride-for-stride with a receiver and intercepted Henigan on the ensuing Memphis possession.
However, after Cook was banged up on a play and Burden went to the locker room, the “home team” was stopped on a 4th-and-1 from the Memphis 31-yard line.
The Tigers clad in gray took advantage of the miscue, driving down into the red zone. Blake Watson shrugged off two would-be tacklers on a 13-yard touchdown catch, cutting the Missouri lead to 24-17 with 4:07 remaining in the third quarter.
Memphis kept applying the pressure, forcing Mizzou into a 3-and-out and threatening inside the opposing 30-yard line. But, on a 4th down, Marcus Clarke stepped up and intercepted a desperation heave from Henigan. With only two healthy defensive backs available in certain moments of this game, Clarke and Dreyden Norwood stepped up to combine for six tackles, one INT and three pass breakups.
Missouri drove down the field thanks to the offensive line beginning to impose its will on the Memphis defensive front, and Mevis knocked home a 32-yard field goal to stretch the Mizzou lead to 10.
Yet again, Henigan and Co. responded. The Memphis offense drove right back down the field and hit a field goal of its own, bringing the lead back to seven with just over five minutes remaining.
But, following along with the theme of the day, the St. Louis-native Schrader ripped off a 33-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive to put the game on ice. The 5-play, 75-yard drive came almost exclusively on the ground.
“I think good teams try to score in the first half and establish the run in the second half,” Drinkwitz said. “And that’s how you win football games.”
However, the glass-half-empty perspective of this game would say that too many injuries piled up over the course of 60 minutes. Brett Norfleet and Ennis Rakestraw Jr. did not play due to injury, Darius Robinson left the field in the first quarter due to a calf strain, Dreyden Norwood was injured in the second, Xavier Delgado left briefly in the fourth, Mookie Cooper went down with a head injury late in the game and Burden returned later after going down in the third quarter. On top of that, Cook was yet again banged up throughout this game, although he fought through the pain, per usual.
When asked about what the team’s focus will be in entering conference play this week, Drink had a simple answer: “Get treatment.”
Still, Missouri remains undefeated and continues to find ways to win games despite periodic lapses.
The Tigers will head to Nashville for a date with Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-1) next Saturday at 3:00 CST. The Commodores are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, having fallen to Wake Forest, UNLV and Kentucky.