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Putting a bow on the 2023 Missouri football season: Part 1

Superlative season is here, and it’s time to hand some out to a Tiger team that captured the attention of the nation.

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Missouri at Ohio State Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As the confetti in Jerry’s World rained down upon a Tiger team that had successfully stunned the nation over the past few months, it was a sign that it’s time to reflect upon the season that was.

And, you couldn’t have asked for more.

There were heart-stopping finishes. Home-state stars. Dominant victories. Four Tennessee teams beat.

There was also explosive offense. Suffocating defense. A New Year’s Six Bowl. A top 10 ranking.

And we were able to witness two game-winning kicks. Cody Schrader become a national star. Brady Cook silence his doubters. Many, many ankles taken by Luther Burden III.

That only scratches the surface of the story that is the 2023 Missouri football season.

Let’s reflect.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Arkansas
From being booed on his own field prior to the K-State game, Cook has quickly become one of the most beloved Tigers of all time.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Numbers

Points Per Game: 32.5

Yards Per Game: 434.4

Rushing Yards Per Game: 172.0

Rushing Yards Per Carry: 4.5

Passing Yards Per Game: 262.3

Passing Yards Per Attempt: 9.1

Kickoff Return Average: 19.15

Punt Return Average: 7.9

Punt Average: 39.40

Field Goals: 24/30

Penalty Yards Per Game: 54.54

3rd Down Percentage: 72/168 (42.9%)

4th Down percentage: 11/15 (73.3%)

Total Turnovers: 8 (6 INTs, 2 fumbles)

Sacks Allowed: 39

Red Zone Touchdown Rate: 36/58

Average Time Of Possession: 30:25

PPG Allowed: 20.85

YPG Allowed: 335.9

Rushing YPG Allowed: 123.1

Rushing YPC Allowed: 3.8

Passing YPG Allowed: 212.9

Passing YPC Allowed: 6.8

Kickoff Return Average Allowed: 19.0

Punt Return Average Allowed: 5.8

3rd Down Percentage Allowed: 66/181 (36.46%)

4th Down percentage Allowed: 12/18 (66.7%)

Total Turnovers Forced: 19 (9 INTs, 10 fumbles)

Sacks Recorded: 26

Opponent Red Zone Touchdown Rate: 21/39

NCAA Football: Missouri at Kentucky
Cody Schrader and the end zone were great friends throughout the season.
Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Stats Kings

Leading Passer: Brady Cook (3,317 yards, 66.5 comp. %, 21 TDs)

Leading Rusher: Cody Schrader (1,654 yards, 14 TDs, 5.9 YPC)

Leading Receiver: Luther Burden (1,212 yards, 86 catches, 14.09 YPC)

Leading Tackler: Jaylon Carlies (64 tackles, 4.5 TFLs)

Leader in Sacks: Darius Robinson (8.5 sacks)

Leader in Interceptions: Kris Abrams-Draine (4 INTs)

The 3 Stars

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri
Wincing through the pain yet still hooping.
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Brady Cook

Redshirt-Junior | St. Louis, Mo. | Quarterback

2023 Stats: 3,317 passing yards, 66.5% comp., 29 total TDs, 510 rushing yards

Notable PFF Stat: Completed 52.49% of his passes of 10+ yards downfield.

The Chaminade kid had dreamed of being a Tiger since he was young. He committed as a sophomore and never wavered.

Cook sat behind Connor Bazelak for two years. He then gradually won a QB battle in 2022 through an up-and-down season. After two iffy performances to begin this year, he was booed when announced as the starting quarterback before the Kansas State game in 2023.

Tiger fans everywhere deserve to be ashamed for how they treated this man.

Since that day, Cook has been nothing but lights out. There’s a point in a quarterback’s career where he achieves a level of comfortability and confidence that allows him to play freely. Cook hit that this season, and he has not looked back since.

It’s tough to pinpoint just what Cook excelled at the most this season. His accuracy with the ball was top-notch at any level of the field. He was making the correct reads and moving through progressions with ease. He still utilized his legs, but smarter this time around, sliding when necessary and making defenses pay when they forget about his ability to eat up yards in the open field.

Kirby Moore called an offense that was well-suited to Cook’s skillset, and he flourished as a result. But, Cook’s progressions in a multitude of areas over this offseason also paid dividends on Saturdays, and that is all because of his work ethic.

I’d also be remiss if I did not mention this guy’s toughness. Mentally, he withstood constant harassment from the fan base. Physically, I’d be stunned if Cook told me that he was 100% healthy going into in any game but South Dakota this season.

“Brady is a stone cold killer,” Schrader said of his QB. “He puts his body on the line every single day. I live with Brady and this kid prepares 12 hours a day.”

None of that mattered, he still balled out. That fourth quarter performance against Ohio State summed up everything you need to know about Cook.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Missouri
A mere arm tackle? Pffft.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Cody Schrader

Graduate Student | St. Louis, Mo. | Running Back

2023 Stats: 1,627 yards, 276 carries, 5.9 YPC, 14 TDs

Notable PFF Stat: Had a breakaway percentage (runs of 15+ yards) of 35.9%

What can I say about Mr. Schrader that has not already been said?

He’s one of the most genuinely determined, team-oriented and nicest individuals I’ve ever come across. His story is well-documented, and his off-field character is top notch. As Jaylon Carlies put it, “When he talks, everybody listens.”

But, the reason he is on this list is because of his on-field ability. Schrader took over the starting role last season and emerged as a reliable RB but was notably limited by a lack of speed.

Well, he worked on that this past offseason (shocker), and it turned out that he does have an extra gear. He may not be burning by SEC defensive backs, but when Schrader saw a hole this season, he hit it with purpose and explosiveness. The man that always falls forward utilized his great vision and ability to run through arm tackles and became the SEC’s leading rusher in 2023, highlighted by dominant performances against Tennessee and Arkansas.

As the game went on, Schrader only appeared to get stronger while the opposing defense grew tired of hitting him. Thus, he would generally take the will out of the opposition by the time the final whistle blew.

“When the pads come on, the only things that you have are your heart, your team and the guys that are riding with you,” Schrader said. “I’ve never seen a 5-star put it on their chest during a game.”

The most impressive thing about Cody Schrader in my eyes? The way he carries himself off the field is completely evident in the way he plays on the field.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Missouri
Selfless is the best way to describe D-Rob.
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Darius Robinson

Senior | Detroit, Mi. | Defensive End

2023 Stats: 43.0 tackles, 14.0 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, 6 QB hurries

Notable PFF Stat: Missed only six tackles all season

If you’ve been around the Missouri football program at all over the past four-ish years, you’ve heard the name Darius Robinson.

It’s hard not to. For starters, he’s a 6-foot-5, nearly 300 lb. defensive lineman who moves humans for a living. He’s also been a consistent vocal leader for this program, committed to bringing Mizzou to the national forefront. And, he does it all with a seemingly permanent smile on his face.

D-Rob’s curtain call as a Tiger was his best showing. Due to a lack of experience and depth at defensive end, the coaching staff and Robinson got together over the offseason and decided that he could move to the edge for his final year after playing as a defensive tackle for the vast majority of his four year career.

That’s no easy feat. Robinson had to simultaneously cut plenty of weight while also learning the ins-and-outs of playing in a new area over the offseason. He had to adjust to playing in more space, studying offensive tackles and building up his arsenal of pass-rush moves. It was tough sledding through the first couple of games as D-Rob adjusted, but once he settled in, he and Johnny Walker Jr. formed an intimidating duo off the edges.

This final season perfectly summed up what Robinson is all about. He sacrificed what he was familiar with for the sake of this team’s chances at doing something truly special, and it ended up benefitting both sides. Whichever NFL team picks him up will be receiving a player that brings a top-tier attitude, work ethic and is willing to do whatever his team requires of him.

Honorable Mentions: Harrison Mevis, Luther Burden III, Kris Abrams-Draine, Kirby Moore, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackles

NCAA Football: Missouri at Arkansas
D-Line Zou.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Surprise Player of the Year

Johnny Walker Jr.

Junior | Tampa, Fl. | Defensive End

2023 Stats: 43 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 5.0 sacks

Notable PFF Stat: Recorded 21 QB hurries this season.

I spoke with Ty’Ron Hopper’s uncle, Tyrone, earlier this fall. He told me that his son Tyrone (who transferred from UNC to Mizzou in ‘22 as a DE) convinced him that Johnny Walker Jr. was set to be a star after the top members of Missouri’s 2022 defensive end room departed for the NFL.

He was pretty spot on.

It wasn’t that people didn’t think that Walker would step up in place of DJ Coleman and Isaiah McGuire, it was how successful he was in doing so that impressed the masses.

Walker was a force off the edge this season, changing games with some timely sacks and QB pressures. He especially excelled while Darius Robinson was getting used to playing off the edge through the first couple weeks of the season. When D-Rob got up to speed, they became a tough duo to handle because teams could not focus on one over the other.

The Cotton Bowl’s Defensive MVP should only improve as a senior in 2024, and I can definitely see him rising up NFL Draft boards throughout next year.

Honorable Mentions: Marquis Johnson, Cody Schrader

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Missouri
Coming right into your living room.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Newcomer of the Year

Theo Wease

Senior | Allen, Texas | Wide Receiver

2023 Stats: 49 catches, 682 yards, 6 TDs, 13.9 YPC

Notable PFF Stat: Recorded a single drop this season.

The former 5-star recruit saw a fair amount of playing time with the Sooners and was productive, racking up 1,044 and 10 TDs over three seasons.

However, he really found a home in COMO, recording career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns. The big-bodied target was well-utilized in the red zone, ran great routes and was sure-handed. But, he also flashed his wheels on this incredible touchdown scamper against Florida:

Not many people thought he had jets like that, but there ya go.

Wease’s experience paid dividends on the field and in the locker room, and he helped spearhead an incredibly deep receiving core. He was a major transfer portal win when he committed to the Tigers, and he became an even bigger win with his play on the field.

Honorable Mentions: Marquis Johnson (man he keeps getting robbed), Triston Newson, Marvin Burks Jr.