January 1st brings about a familiar mantra: New Year, New Me. The end of the holiday season and the changing of the calendar represents the perfect time to focus on self-improvement and achieving new goals. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to look at five New Year’s resolutions for the 2023 Missouri Tigers football program to take a step forward.
This is about identifying weaknesses and attacking them in the name of growth. There is a time and place to sit back and reflect on the goals that were accomplished in 2022, and to appreciate the program’s strengths.
But not at this time. Right now it is all about New Year, New Tigers. Let’s look at how the program can take another step forward in 2023 by adopting some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions.
Kick a bad habit: Starting games slow
Under Eli Drinkwitz the Tigers have a nasty little habit of starting off games on the wrong foot. Sometimes, they are able to rally and overcome the poor start, but not always. How often did we see the Tigers go three-and-out on the first possession, while the other team marched down the field on the scripted drive? Far too often for my taste. Starting every Saturday on the right foot will go a long way to improving their final record.
Gain muscle mass: Bulk up interior OL
New Year’s is a classic time for people looking to gain or lose weight, perhaps for vanity or for health or for self-esteem. The Missouri offensive line needs to add weight as a matter of survival. SEC football is won and lost by the play in the trenches; the Tigers offense has shiny pieces on the perimeter but needs improved play on the interior. In 2022 the offensive line ranked 84th in PFF’s run blocking grades and 73rd in pass blocking, and that just isn’t good enough. The secret sauce to the 2013 Cotton Bowl team was not the tall receiving threats or Henry Josey’s tough running; it was four offensive linemen who would each play NFL football for a decade. Reestablishing that success with the big uglies is critical to taking a step forward.
Learn a new language: a new OC’s playbook
Eli Drinkwitz is entering a crossroads year for his tenure, and one thing is clear: he is strong at big-picture, “CEO” things like portal evaluation, re-recruiting his roster, acquiring high school talent, and fostering a good locker room culture. But his biggest flaw is highly visible every Saturday: his offense — much heralded for the “eye candy” and the side-to-side action — was so prolific at his previous stops but has not been effective in the SEC at all. (n.b. also Bryan Harsin at Auburn)
Some fresh ideas with a new book would inject some life into this offense, as well as free Drinkwitz up on the sidelines to make clearer decisions with game management. A new voice in the headset is a good thing, as shown by Mizzou’s better execution in November with Bush Hamdan calling plays instead of Drinkwitz. Hamdan has since moved on, but a generous portion of money remains in the assistant coach pool to bring in a new leader for the offense. Let’s make that happen.
Meet someone new: get a new quarterback
I like Brady Cook. I really do. He bleeds black and gold, lays his body on the line to make plays for the team, gutted through a shoulder injury for months, and commands the locker room. He’s everything you want in a college quarterback – except an effective passer. He would make a fine high-floor, low-ceiling backup for next year’s signal caller, but if he were to remain at the helm of the passing game, the Tigers offense will continue to stall. Four-star prospects Sam Horn and Gabarri Johnson should have every chance to try to earn this job in the offseason heading into the 2023 season, and there are still impact players available in the transfer portal. Please, please, let’s try something new next season.
Connect with old friends and family: continue to develop and engage with fanbase
Having an engaged and dedicated fanbase has never been more important to a successful football program than it is in the NIL era. It’s no secret that fan interest waned in the past decade, but AD Desiree Reed-Francois has made steps to bring the rowdies back to Faurot Field. (The crowd for the Georgia game was one of the best in years.) The department, along with Drinkwitz’s full-throated support, must continue to use innovative ways to reconnect with the fanbase, donors, and NIL collectives going forward. Of course, winning is a balm that heals many of these wounds, so an exciting and dominant Tigers team will put more butts in the seats and dollars in the warchest.
The Tigers are not some moribund program. They are only a few years removed from teams that lived in the top ten, and with an expanded playoff, they will have chances to make the tournament on their upswing seasons. But some clear steps of self-improvement need to be taken, both on the field, in the meeting rooms, and in the program’s culture. Let’s get even better in 2023.