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Four statistics that underline Mizzou’s undefeated start

Burden chasing Danario and Maclin. Cook chasing 2011 Colby Cameron.

NCAA Football: Memphis at Missouri Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

Last year Missouri started 2-2 and had more questions than answers about the optimism of the season. I looked back at the previous four games and pulled four box score stats to try and give credit to why Missouri is 4-0. If you’ve read the previous two times of doing this, you’ll notice some repetition specifically from the QB and a special WR.

0 Interceptions

Syndication: Columbia Daily Tribune Abigail Landwehr/Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

In 2022, during Missouri’s 2-2 start, Brady Cook’s four touchdowns equaled his four interceptions against Louisiana Tech, Kansas State, and Auburn. A lot of the fanbase wanted him benched. Heck, many people wanted him benched before the K-State game this year, but now we can say that HE IS THE MAN. He is embraced like the true son he is. He is Him and there’s no questioning his job status.

It’s been 352 days, 11 games, and 307 passing attempts since a Cook pass has fallen into the hands of an opposing defense. The FBS record for most consecutive passing attempts without an interception was 444 by Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron in 2011. I looked back to 2002, starting with Brad Smith, to see if any Tiger quarterback possessed a longer streak than Cook. After observing Smith, Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert, James Franklin, Maty Mauk, Drew Lock, and Connor Bazelak, none accomplished what Cook has been doing.

No. 12 is on his way to having one of the most efficient seasons ever by a Missouri quarterback and is not playing in a reckless way that loses games. The Pro Football Focus numbers support this claim, along with the eye test. Last season, through the first four games, Cook produced a passing grade below 65 in half of those games (K-State and Auburn) while having six turnover-worthy plays. So far, for 2023, PFF grades are only available for the first three games. Cook’s passing grades were above 65 in two of those contests, and I hypothesize that should be the same with Memphis. He’s only produced two turnover-worthy plays, with zero coming against Kansas State.

He also might be the toughest quarterback we’ve seen in a while.

504 Receiving Yards

A dynamic, St. Louis-made duo is unfolding before our eyes. The first player I just talked about is Cook, and the other is Luther Burden III. Through four games, Burden surpassed his receiving yardage total from last season at 504 yards compared to just 375 in 2022. He’s just 13 receptions from eclipsing his total from last season of 45, while his yards per reception have jumped from 8.3 to 15.8.

This is a complete refreshment through the first four games compared to last year’s start where Burden touched the ball just 17 offensively, and zero in that heartbreaking 17-14 loss at Auburn. You can thank Kirby Moore and the rise of Cook, but a big part of it is the growth of perhaps the best wide receiver in the SEC, and the determination and power when the ball is in his hands.

His start to the 2023 season is currently a historic run for the program. Here are the top-10 single-season leaders through the first four games in program history and how they finished.

Luther Burden III (2023)

  • First four games: 504 yards on 32 receptions, 3 touchdowns
  • End of season totals: TBD

J’Mon Moore (2016)

  • First four games: 434 yards on 26 receptions, 6 touchdowns
  • End of season totals: 1,012 yards on 62 receptions, 8 touchdowns

Emanuel Hall (2018)

  • First four games: 430 yards on 20 receptions, 4 touchdowns
  • End of season totals: 828 yards on 37 receptions, 6 touchdowns

Danario Alexander (2009)

  • First four games: 404 yards on 29 receptions, 4 touchdowns
  • End of season totals: 1,781 yards on 113 receptions, 14 touchdowns

T.J. Moe (2010)

  • First four games: 394 yards on 37 receptions, 2 touchdowns
  • End of season totals: 1,045 yards on 92 receptions, 6 touchdowns

Justin Gage (2002)

  • First four games: 391 yards on 33 receptions, 2 touchdowns
  • End of season totals: 1,074 yards on 82 receptions, 9 touchdowns

Jeremy Maclin (2008)

  • First four games: 391 yards on 26 receptions, 4 touchdowns
  • End of season totals: 1,260 yards on 102 receptions, 13 touchdowns

Jared Perry (2009)

  • First four games: 381 yards on 25 receptions, 5 touchdowns
  • End of season totals: 696 yards on 46 receptions, 6 touchdowns

Chase Coffman (2008)

  • First four games: 379 yards on 28 receptions, 3 touchdowns
  • End of season totals: 987 yards on 90 receptions, 10 touchdowns

Dominic Lovett (2022)

  • First four games: 376 yards on 21 receptions, 2 touchdowns
  • End of season totals: 846 yards on 56 receptions, 3 touchdowns.

Boom! 10 receivers right there with Burden at the top by a large margin. Using his per-game numbers, he’s on track for (using a 13-game schedule) 104 receptions, 1,638 yards, and ten scores, and he is one of the best, along with Alexander and Maclin. Of course, numbers could come down, but it just doesn’t seem he’ll be slowing down anytime soon.

Let’s talk about winning in the trenches.

Saying this in a John Facenda voice: No matter how far the game of football has evolved, the game is won and lost in the trenches.

403 Rushing yards

Suppose you glance at the current SEC rushing leaders. In that case, you’ll notice at the top isn’t the next great Alabama running back, not Travis Etienne’s brother, Trevor, nor a Kentucky Wildcat. But instead, it’s Missouri’s own - and former Division II Truman State workhorse - Cody Schrader.

You can nitpick this as Tennessee has a duo in Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small but at the top of the list is a Missouri Tiger. He leads the conference as the only running back with 403 yards and FINALLY broke the long one.

And he’s just getting more and more comfortable with the offense.

While credit is due to Schrader and Nathaniel Peat, who on 44 carries has 186 yards and a pair of scores, credit is also due to the well-improved big boys on the offensive line.

The PFF numbers are surprisingly outstanding in the run department for the black and gold moving company. First, a round of applause to Javon Foster and Connor Tollison for ranking first among their positions bolstered by running grades 87.9 and 88.8. Cam’Ron Johnson and Xavier Delgado have run grades of 72.2 and 74.2, while Armand Membou holds 75.8. This has all contributed to the Tigers having a top half of the SEC rushing attack. While the offense is pass first, the term “throw to score, run to win” has been alive during the 4-0 start.

15th in the nation

Let’s flip to the other side of the ball. Eli Drinkwitz hasn’t been pleased with Missouri’s man-to-man defense in pass coverage, and against Memphis, the team was down to just three healthy cornerbacks. But remember, football has been and will continue to be a game won and lost in the trenches.

Remember how helpless we felt about the 2021 defense after being gashed game-by-game, producing one of the worst rush defenses I’ve seen? Now, heading into SEC play, Missouri possesses the nation’s 15th-best rush defense, allowing just 83.3 yards per game.

So far, it’s held South Dakota to under a yard-per rush, Kansas State to its lowest single-game rushing total in its past 11 games, and then allowed Memphis to gain just 2.9 yards per carry in St. Louis.