Remember Dan Mullen? Dan is a dumbass. The dude thought he could roll into a blue blood SEC program and be an offensive genius instead of also being good at recruiting and defense. With as much hubris as he could possibly muster, he claimed that his 2020 team - depleted via injury, transfer portal, and NFL hold outs - was the first game of his 2021 team and they would kickstart a Florida Gator renaissance.
The Gators got detonated by Oklahoma 55-20.
Eli Drinkwitz is a little different. He still saw a bowl game as an opportunity to jump-start the youngsters taking over for next year’s team, but didn’t brag about it and certainly didn’t let everybody know about it.
Missouri took the field against Army and - either from the first kick or through in-game injury - had the following starters unavailable to participate:
- Connor Bazelak
- Tyler Badie
- Daniel Parker, Jr.
- Niko Hea
- Kobie Whiteside
- Akial Byers
- Akayleb Evans
- Allie Green IV
- Martez Manuel
- Jaylon Carlies
That’s ten players, nine of which are/were starters. Of those ten, three are expected to return as of now: Carlies, Hea, and Manuel (though he might be declaring for the Draft).
So, with those ten out for the game, and total snap counts accounted for, here’s what Missouri’s actual offense and defense looked like:
If we remove the guys who we know aren’t coming back you lose...Chism, Maietti, Alldredge, and McKinniss. That’s it. And, of the guys who didn’t play, only two (maybe three) come back.
My point: overall, this was the 2022 team that took the field and nearly beat a team that was much better than they were. There will be some future additions (notably: one Luther Burden) and certainly not all of these guys will get starting-level snaps in ‘22. But, for the most part, the names you see on this list will be the majority of names you see as starters in Eli Drinkwitz’s third campaign in Columbia.
Here’s the advanced box score:
The Tigers outgained the Knights in total yards, yards per play, yards per possession, and converted better on 3rd-downs. Both teams had 8 possessions and 5 scoring opportunities but while Army maximized on their scoring opportunities they only did so by 0.4 points per opportunity. This was a close game played on Army’s terms and Missouri was able to hang until the final second. Not too bad for 2021’s backups and freshmen, huh?
For the last time this season, let’s review the keys to the game:
When Missouri Has the Ball
34 rushes for 214 yards, 34 passes for 238 yards. That’s about as balanced as an offense can get! And before you think to yourself, “well, most teams should do that against Army”, a.) Army’s defense is better than most other defenses, and b.) most teams do not have that kind of success against them.
Pass to Win
The goal was to have a 45% success rate through the air; Brady Cook and crew finished with a 67.6% success rate, 26% better than Army’s season defensive average and the best success rate the Knights had seen through the air all season. It’s also the best passing success rate the Tigers have had since Kelly Bryant and Taylor Powell combined for a 77% success rate against Troy in 2019. The previous best success rate game for the Drinkwitz regime was the LSU game in 2020 when Bazelak hit 63%.
Generate Big Plays
The goal was to have eight big plays through the air and fourteen total for the game. The Tigers ended up with three explosive plays through the air and five explosive plays on the ground. Coming in to this game Army was a defense that stopped the short-stuff and gave up the big-stuff and the fact that Missouri was able to move the ball without an outright reliance on big plays was a huge win going forward (but not for this key to the game!).
Finish your dang drives
I wanted to see at least five opportunities with five points per opportunity. Missouri ended up with five opportunities and 4.4 points per opportunity: close but not quite there. That’s almost exactly the average points per opportunity that Army’s defense gives up but, on the flip side, Missouri held Army below their season average on offense!
When Army Has the Ball
The point has been made over and over for the past month but, seriously, it bear repeating: this defense is so much better than what we started with and I don’t know what the heck happened. This Tigers defense - the one who gave up eleven billion rushing yards to Tennessee - just held one of the better rushing teams in the country to a 38.2% success rate on the ground, nine percent worse than their season average and the second-worst ground performance of Army’s season. I...just...how? How were they so bad at the beginning of the year and so much better now? The world may never know.
Stop the one thing this offense does
Uh, check. I thought a 44% success rate would mean Army’s offense was struggling and, again, they were held to 38.2%. It sucks that Army did well on the nine times they threw the ball but that’s what’s going to happen when your secondary is a freshman, a walk-on, and a linebacker.
Here’s another annoying key to the game that was met but nullified by other factors. My goal was for Missouri to hold Army to a 35% conversion rate on 3rd-down and they hit it; the problem was that Army was also 100% on 4th-down conversion. C’est la vie.
The Little Things
Missouri had better yards per play and was perfect on field goals, Army benefited from the lone turnover of the game, one fewer penalty for 10 fewer yards, and a +14 yard advantage in starting field position. Other than the field position there’s not much concerning or revealing here. It was a close game between two teams that were playing an even game.
This really was a fun game to watch. As the guy who watches all of these games many, many times in a season, I can honestly say this was one of the better ones. If Downing catches that 2-point conversion or D.J. Jackson doesn’t nab a facemask or that last kick curves left we all would have enjoyed it much more, no doubt about it. But it’s rare to see a tightly contested game like that, especially during bowl season, so discount the result and just be happy you saw the JV Tigers nearly steal a win against a better team.
And, on a personal note, thanks again for reading this article. It’s a massive labor of love that occasionally leaves me asking “why the hell am I doing this?” but I know the spirit of this website was built on giving smart, nuanced analysis from numbers that conventionally don’t get discussed and I hope I’m able to continue that tradition.
This team finished strong and returns a good chunk of the guys who were responsible for that finish and bring in even more blue-chips to add to their Top 20 haul from a year ago. The wins will come eventually but, regardless of the Ws and Ls, this team should be getting better soon.