I was consistent in how I would judge the past two weeks of Missouri football: Those were pass/fail tests, much like the grade kids receive in kindergarten. You either move on to the next grade, or you’re held back. There is no grading on a scale. It’s a very simple evaluation. Missouri passed both of its early tests.
Today was different. Contenders shouldn’t just beat Vanderbilt. They should impose their will against Vanderbilt. Whatever it is that you do well, you can do that against the Commodores. The Tigers’ best asset is their passing game, and the stars were shining bright in Nashville. This is — undoubtedly — the best Missouri offense we’ve watched since (at least) 2018. It’s paired with a more than capable defense. That’s the kind of combination that can lead to some really meaningful games down the stretch.
Enough with the big picture talk, though. Let’s break down what we saw on the field against Vanderbilt, shall we?
1) Brady Cook has emerged as one of the most productive quarterbacks in the SEC
What in the world has gotten into Brady Cook?! Is this the same quarterback who had been criticized for all of last season and the first two games of this season for his unwillingness (inability?) to throw the ball deep? So much for that! Cook attempted seven passes against Vanderbilt that traveled at least 15 yards in the air. He finished 5-for-7 on those passes for 129 yards. He’s now 17-for-24 for 520 yards over the past three weeks when he targets a receiver more than 15 yards down the field. Not bad, huh?
Are you kidding me with this throw, Brady? Hot damn. I need a cigarette and a sandwich. That was beautiful. pic.twitter.com/abnprFSJeq— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) September 30, 2023
The thing is, he’s added the down field aspect to his game without losing his efficiency. He’s completed 74 of his 104 pass attempts over this three game stretch, good for a 71 percent completion percentage. And is this a good time to mention he now holds the SEC record for the most consecutive attempts without throwing an interception?
The production is off the charts. Cook is the first Mizzou quarterback to throw for at least 300 yards in 3-straight against against FBS opponents since Chase Daniel did so in 2008. Best I can tell, he’s the first Mizzou quarterback to throw for at least 340 yards against FBS opponents in 3-straight games in... at least the past 20 years? I can’t go back any further than that. If you have the answer to this trivia question, feel free to leave it in the comments to this post. Whatever the answer, it’s either been quite some time or he’s the first to do so in the history of the program. Either way is quite the feat.
Brady Cook has done something Mizzou hasn't had from a QB since Chase Daniel in 2008: Three straight 300-yard passing games vs FBS teams— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) September 30, 2023
Bazelak in 2021 went 346, 303, 322 but one game was vs FCS SEMO.
Lock in 2016 went 450,376,402 but one of those was against FCS Delaware St
The numbers pop off the page, but even they don’t tell the full story. Cook is playing with confidence. He’s hitting his receivers in stride. He’s making throws to every layer of the field. If we’re taking into account both the consistency and the explosiveness, it’s the most impressive stretch of games I can remember from a Mizzou quarterback since Drew Lock left campus, and if I’m being honest, I might go all the way back to James Franklin’s first year as a starter. Cook is on quite the heater. He’s been a regional story for a little while. The national attention is going to catch on soon.
2) Mizzou finally has some depth in its receiver corps
Speaking of national attention, it’s time to talk about Luther Burden III’s place among the best receivers in college football. I don’t know if he’s the best. But I know he’s in the discussion. Let’s start here: Burden is the first Mizzou receiver with more than 600 yards receiving in the team’s first five games of the season, according to Mizzou historian Tom Orf. He’s also the first Mizzou wide receiver with at least 100 yards in 4-straight games since Danario Alexander did so to finish out the 2009 season (6-straight including the bowl game vs Navy).
No matter how you slice it, he’s putting together one of the best stretches by a Mizzou wide receiver in the history of the program. He’s making plays in every possible way. He’s beating corners over the top. He’s winning after the catch on screens and slants. He’s winning contested catches. He’s doing everything.
I don’t know if he’s a Heisman Trophy candidate; this is a wonderful college football season with some spectacular college football seasons. But if a wide receiver emerges within the conversation, that discussion should include Burden.
Brady Cook's last three games: 74-for-101 for 1,092 yards, 8 TDs and 0 INTs.— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) September 30, 2023
Luther Burden in that span: 28 catches, 431 yards, 4 TDs.
What makes this offense different, though, is the depth at receiver. It’s not Burden and the Burdenettes. It’s a group of guys who win in different ways. Burden is The Dude, and nobody would argue it. But the Tigers are also getting positive contributions from Theo Wease Jr., Mookie Cooper and Marquis Johnson.
Wease finished this game with 10 receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown. Wease’s 10 receptions resulted in seven first downs and a touchdown. Not too shabby from a success rate perspective. Burden and Wease are the first Mizzou pass catching duo to finish with 100+ yards in a game since 2018 (Albert Okwuegbunam & Jalen Knox). The last time the Tigers had multiple wide receivers finish with 100+ in a game was the regular season finale in 2017 against Arkansas (J’Mon Moore & Emanuel Hall).
Obviously hurts losing Dom Lovett this year, but Theo Wease has been such a solid replacement pic.twitter.com/tvCS1gTdxC— Mark Kim (@MarkJKim_) September 30, 2023
Beyond Burden and Wease, Cooper has emerged as a solid third option the past couple weeks. He had three receptions for 53 yards against Memphis, and added another five receptions for 56 yards against Vandy.
We can’t talk about the added depth to the group without bringing up the speedster in Johnson. Hot damn, my dude is fast. He has five receptions in Mizzou’s last three games. Those receptions have resulted in gains of 42 yards, 76 yards (TD), 9 yards, 11 yards and 44 yards (TD). That’s five receptions for 184 yards (37 yards per reception). That’ll play.
Four wide receivers, all of whom win in different ways. Now that is what an SEC receiver corps is supposed to look like. Cook and Burden deserve a ton of praise for what they’ve done to expand the offense. Let’s not forget about the other receivers getting the job done.
3) Missouri’s defense had a day that can be told as a tale of two stories
Be honest, were you annoyed with the way Mizzou’s defense finished that game? I don’t blame you if you were. Through three quarters, Missouri’s defense had allowed 7 points and 156 yards. The Commodores were averaging 4.1 yards per play and 5.1 yards per pass. It was a pretty dominant performance.
And then the fourth quarter happened. Vandy put up 14 points and 144 yards. The Commodores averaged 11 yards per play. Four of their six pass plays to gain 20+ yards took place in the fourth quarter. The defense that looked dominant for three quarters suddenly looked anything but.
The truth is probably somewhere in-between. Vanderbilt’s offensive success rate for the day was below 25 percent. They were 2-for-10 on third down and finished with just 300 yards of total offense. That’s a really solid day for the defense. That being said, it wasn’t exactly a day full of havoc for Blake Baker’s unit. The Tigers didn’t have a sack until the final drive of the game. They finished with just five tackles for loss. Their lone takeaway came on a busted play when Ken Seals threw it to nobody in particular.
In other words, this game was a coach’s dream. Good enough to put together a convincing win, but enough to correct that there’s no reason to rest on your laurels heading into LSU week.
4) Missouri has to get these offensive penalties under control
Four false starts. Two holding calls. An ineligible man downfield. In total, that’s seven penalties costing Missouri 45 yards against Vanderbilt. The Tigers also had four offensive penalties — all on the offensive line (2 holdings and two false starts) — against Memphis, and five penalties (3 false starts and two delay of games) against Kansas State. That’s nine false starts in the past three games. Inexcusable. Can’t happen against LSU. It didn’t matter against Vanderbilt because it shouldn’t matter against Vanderbilt. But it has to get cleaned up or it will eventually cost them a game against superior competition.
5) Missouri did exactly what fans wanted it to do in the first 5 games of the season
Missouri is 5-0 for the first time since 2013. The Tigers have now started 5-0 six times since 2000. They won at least eight games in each of the previous five such seasons. They won double digit games in four of those five seasons. Starting 5-0 doesn’t guarantee future success, but it’s pretty indicative that the Tigers are a really good football team.
Missouri’s schedule set up for this to be possible. The Tigers had to pull off an upset against Kansas State, and then take care of business the rest of the way. If they were able to do that — no guarantee — it would set up the biggest game at Faurot Field in a decade against the LSU Tigers.
Eli Drinkwitz deserves a whole heck of a lot of credit for getting his team to this point. I was skeptical. You probably were, too. There’s nothing wrong with that. But now that they’ve arrived at this point, it’s worth celebrating. Being 5-0 opens up the possibility of a special season. Fans can dream. Players gain confidence. The SEC is wide open.
Did you watch Georgia struggle (again) today? Did you see Kentucky beat the brakes off of Florida? Have you seen what Tennessee looks like this year? Spoiler alert, it ain’t the same offense as it was a year ago. Have you watched the LSU defense? Yikes.
Missouri has plenty of work to do. The Tigers still have to take care of business. But the first month of the season has left us feeling optimistic. It’s been quite some time since we’ve been able to say that. Enjoy it. Our reward is meaningful football games to watch in the month of October.
I missed this.