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Putting a bow on the 2023 Missouri football season: Part 2

I could’ve done a part three, but that would be a bit overkill. You’re welcome.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Part two delves into the memories that were made this season, my final takeaways and a brief look ahead to what the future holds for this Missouri program...

Best Moments

Harrison Mevis’ 61-yard game-winning field goal to beat No. 15 Kansas State

It was the game that Mizzou had to have.

After being embarrassed by the ‘Cats in Manhattan last season and starting out the 2023 season with two less-than-convincing wins over inferior opponents, the pressure was on Drinkwitz to prove that this program had taken a step forward between this year and last. A loss would begin the grumblings of his job security and the lacking potential of this team. A win, and everything is right in the world.

Mizzou came out swinging, going punch-for-punch with the 15th ranked team in the land. It led to the score being knotted at 27 late in the game with the Tigers in possession. Cook maneuvered his offense down the field, but some rough clock management meant that Harrison Mevis would have to attempt a 61-yard field goal to try to win this one.

I mean, the guy has hit some long ones before, but 61 yards? No chance...

...The bird’s eye view of the stadium flooding onto the field is something I’ll never forget.

Game-winning drive to take down Florida

Fast forward roughly two months from that day, and Mizzou was faced with a much different storyline. Beat Florida and Arkansas and you’d find yourself in a New Year’s Six Bowl. Lose to either of those reeling teams and the season would be marked by a “What if?”

Well, the Tigers stared a loss to the Gators in the face and spat on it. With all of the momentum in the favor of Billy Napier’s teams following a 10-0 run late in the fourth quarter to claim a 31-30 advantage, Cook and the offense had one last chance to make their way down the field.

The drive was nearly stopped before it truly got going. First Armand Membou went offside. Then, Cody Schrader ran for a loss of two yards. Then, Brady Cook threw two incompletions. 4th and 17 was the result.

It’s a down and distance that Tiger fans will remember for quite a while.

Burden settled down into a soft spot in the Gators’ zone coverage and Cook found him for a gain of 27 yards. Two chunk completions later, Mevis was set up to kick a mere 30-yarder.

12 plays. 82 yards. One minute and 29 seconds. It all led to 9-2.

Second half rally to win the Cotton Bowl

The storybook ending to Mizzou’s magical 2023 campaign was anything but through most of three quarters against the Buckeyes. Cook and the passing attack could not find a rhythm, as Ohio State’s vaunted defense flexed its talent throughout this game. Ryan Day’s group clung to a 3-0 advantage late in the third quarter, hoping that its defense could hang on to steal one in Dallas.

Mizzou needed someone on the perimeter to win a battle and create an explosive play. And, just like he did roughly two and a half months ago (on a play that also could have been featured here), Marquis Johnson became that guy. He found some space down the field and hauled in a 50-yard completion from Cook that shifted momentum entirely in Mizzou’s favor. Schrader punched it in from three yards out, giving the Tigers their first lead of the game.

“Marquis got us going with the big shot,” Luther Burden said. “We needed some momentum and it’s pretty hard for a freshman to do that in the Cotton Bowl. I’m super excited for the future.”

The drive seemed to inspire confidence in the offense. After the defense forced yet another quick stop, Cook found a streaking Theo Wease down the sideline to get into Buckeye territory. Schrader and Cook took over from there, and the drive concluded with Luther Burden snagging a touchdown that put the game on ice.

“This was a really special night. Obviously special for me, but this is about our team, our fan base and our university,” Cook said following the win. “They deserve this.”

It wasn’t pretty, but Mizzou won the Cotton Bowl by adapting and surviving, just like it had all season long.

NCAA Football: Florida at Missouri
The environments at Faurot Field were ELITE.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

10 Takeaways From The Season That Was

  1. Kirby Moore is, in fact, an up-and-coming offensive mind in college football. His creativity, adaptability and ability to free up his best players is top-tier.
  2. The transfer portal is just as valuable for depth as it is for pulling in star talent. The Missouri offensive line, linebackers, defensive ends and wide receivers can all attest to that.
  3. Brady Cook is one of the best examples of a “project” QB developing into a star as an upperclassmen. He was polished, comfortable and efficient in 2023.
  4. Missouri is now a national brand, both in the recruiting world and the college football landscape. Eliah Drinkwitz is playing with house money at this point, but sustaining all of that is the next challenge. (Drink: “The wins are twice as hard at the top of the mountain”)
  5. Cody Schrader will go down as one of the best success stories in college football history. Ideally, his season will inspire more D-II phenoms to try their luck at the FBS level.
  6. The Tiger offensive line, once thought to be a weakness, became a strength through improved depth, experience, the addition of Brandon Jones and a stronger mindset.
  7. The four-man defensive tackle rotation of Kristian Williams, Josh Landry, Jayden Jernigan and Realus George Jr. are the unsung heroes of the past two seasons.
  8. Darius Robinson’s selflessness in moving from DT to DE is not talked about enough. His play on the field was stellar, but one could argue that he had even more value as a team leader. D-Rob will be sorely missed.
  9. The Missouri faithful became a true Southeastern Conference fan base this season.
  10. The Tigers are now a factor in the SEC. As the landscape changes next year, the challenge becomes continuing to tread water at this level while making the needed improvements to reach that top tier.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 11 Tennessee at Missouri
Expect big numbers from this guy in next season.
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Looking Ahead To 2024

The future is bright in Columbia.

The Tigers will lose their fair share of talent to the NFL this offseason, which is typical of an overachieving team and will actually prove to be highly beneficial on the recruiting trail and in terms of brand reputation.

The defense will have to be retooled, a new running back will need to step up in place of Schrader and the offensive line will have a handful of new starters. We will see if the answers to those question marks come through the portal, new recruits or players that have bided their time behind veterans. In my eyes, there are plenty of options from each of those groups given how Drinkwitz has recruited at both the high school and collegiate levels.

Brady Cook will return, as will Luther Burden and a deep WR corps, Johnny Walker Jr. and Armand Membou (so far). Those are some great anchors to build the 2024 roster around. With the portal, the college football offseason has become a game of shopping around to fill all of your roster holes, and you better believe that Drinkwitz is going to have a large shopping cart. He’s already managed to land big names such as Toriano Pride, Marcus Carroll, Cayden Green, and Corey Flagg to fill some holes with top-tier talent.

“I think next year is gonna be even better. I think that this was just a start for this program,” Darius Robinson said following the Cotton Bowl. “Bigger things are coming up, and I’m just glad that I was able to be the start of something greater.”

The 2024 schedule is a mixed bag. The non-conference slate is relatively light, with Boston College making the return trip to COMO and an odd visit to UMass sprinkled in there.

The conference slate is unique, to say the least. The road schedule includes Mississippi State, Alabama, South Carolina and Texas A&M. Arkansas, Auburn, Oklahoma and Vanderbilt will all visit Faurot Field. Games with the Sooners, Crimson Tide and Aggies jump off the page, but every game outside of Vandy and perhaps MSU will be pivotal swing games for this team.

Regardless, Missouri fans have plenty of reason to celebrate following the ‘23 campaign. Drinkwitz had his breakthrough season, home-state products starred, the environments at Faurot were incredible and the Tigers are a force on the recruiting trail. This team went 11-2, yes, but its impact on this program will be felt far beyond that win-loss column.

“When we took this job four years ago, there was a belief in doing something that had never been done before,” Drinkwitz said. “We’re still in the infancy stages of doing all that, but I think that the future is extremely bright because of the plans we have and the vision that we are carrying out.”

On a personal note, I was just glad that, in my final year of college, I was able to be on campus to witness a football team that will go down in Mizzou history as one that changed the outlook of this program. As a senior, I could not have asked for a better year on the beat or a better group of individuals to cover.