When I make my assessment of how a team is progressing in a rebuild I try to avoid using individual games or players as the litmus test of that assessment. Why? Because college players are inconsistent and individual games featuring those inconsistent players aren’t always the most reliable read of a program rebuild.
That’s why I focus on the staff and program as a whole: Are facilities getting built? Is your staff well-compensated? Do they seem to complement each other from a strategy and execution standpoint? How do the coordinators handle their individual units? Right or wrong, do the players seem to understand what they are supposed to do? Do the play calls make sense?
You can’t answer all of those questions after one week of seeing the on-field product, but at least during the offseason and the LaTech game, I was mentally checking some of those boxes because, HEY, if the players aren’t consistent at least the well-compensated adults running the team can be.
And then I watched this offensive ineptitude happen for four hours...
...and now I’m furiously erasing the check marks in a few of those boxes.
Who would have thought that the same man who liberally trotted out Luther Burden in a Wildcat quarterback role, lined up Dom Lovett as an H-back and a second running back, and found ways to get his athletes in a position to win would also be the guy who decided none of that would be done against a peer/superior opponent? After 60 minutes of showing off some of that hallowed offensive creativity, Eli Drinkwitz saw clouds in the sky and a purple cat on the field and went, “Ope, better stay away from all that creative crap I threw out there last week.” And now our dear friend Eli is 2-8 in true road games, 1-12 when his team is losing at halftime, (most likely) 1-8 against teams that finish the year ranked and (most likely) 2-10 against teams that finish the year with a winning record.
Not only was it a Barry Odom-like commitment to “things that don’t work”, it was a Barry Odom-like performance against teams that are peer/superior programs. Barry was fired for that sort of performance; if he’s not careful, Eli could very well end up with a similar fate (but not this year...more on that some other time).
Let’s review the keys to the game. For formality’s sake!
When Missouri Has the Ball
For the life of me I still can’t figure out how Eli Drinkwitz managed to generate 19 touches to Dominic Lovett and Luther Burden - Missouri’s best offensive players, in my opinion - against Louisiana Tech and then only manufacture 11 against Kansas State. It doesn’t take a football coaching veteran of 20 years to realize that, when things get tough, get the ball to your best players and see what happens. I guess that just wasn’t an option on Saturday.
The goal was for the Tigers to have at least a 44% success rate through the air and they finished with 26.7%. Downright Bazelak-ian!
Winner: Kansas State
I wanted to see Missouri score five runs of 12+ yards against the Wildcats; Not only did they log zero runs longer than 11 yards, they also had one run go 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Tight.
Winner: Kansas State
Finish your dang drives
Missouri crossed the Kansas State 40-yard line a total of three times all game, and one of those times was when the Wildcats fumbled trying to run out the clock. Needless to say, 4 points per scoring opportunity isn’t great; 3 total scoring opportunities in a game is much worse.
Winner: Kansas State
When Kansas State Has the Ball
Purely from a success rate/explosiveness standpoint, this is almost exactly what it looked like when Missouri lost to Wyoming in 2019. Back then, the Cowboy offense completed less than 45% of their passes with a 30% success rate while gaining almost 300 yards on the ground at a 43.9% success rate. Now? The Wildcat offense had a 45% completion rate and 25% success rate throwing, with 235 yards rushing on a 41.9% success rate. This isn’t an accident: Wyoming’s Craig Bohl and K-State’s Chris Klieman are both former North Dakota State head coaches and this is what they do.
Throw Them Off Schedule
Technically Missouri did hold Kansas State to a rushing success rate of less than 42%, as the Wildcats ended the day with a 41.9% rushing success rate. Didn’t matter much when they only needed to go 30 yards to score, however.
Ball control offenses need to have their efficiency plays eliminated and the best way to do that is to create big havoc plays to generate loss of yards. I asked for a havoc rate of over 40% ; we got 3 total havoc plays for a 6.7% havoc rate. Hmph.
Winner: Kansas State
The Little Things
Missouri was outgained by a full 2 yards per play. The Tigers had one fewer point per scoring opportunity than Kansas State and had five fewer scoring opportunities. Missouri had 4 turnovers while Kansas State only had one very late in the game and the Wildcats enjoyed a whopping 15-yard advantage in average starting field position. No matter how you look at it, this was the most thorough ass whooping Eli Drinkwitz has received since Georgia of last year, and at least in that game Missouri didn’t have any turnovers!
The Tigers had one more penalty than K-State but 24 fewer yards, which I guess is a good thing? However, having your starting center be called for two false start penalties isn’t great. Tollison is still young and he’ll work it out over time but it is odd to witness that happen twice in a single game.
- Missouri’s only quarter of actually moving the ball at a reliable clip just so happened to occur when they also decided to throw three interceptions in three straight possessions. Meanwhile, the Tiger defense once again was a little sleepy in the 1st quarter then locked it in as time went on. Q4 success rates for K-State obviously jumped, but that was also at the point where we started seeing backup defenders get on the field and the game was well out of reach.
- We spent a good chunk of the offseason discussing what a Blake Baker defense looks like and the main theme is “aggression.” As mentioned above, a 6% havoc rate is a very bad sign for Baker’s boys, but over two games you’ve seen the good and bad of this style of defense. When it connects it is absolutely devastating; when it misses it gives up huge chunks of yards. You remember the three bombs that LaTech connected on, yes? Well, K-State hit on three passes that went over 16 yards and five rushes of more than 12 yards. Again, this defensive style wipes out the short stuff and opens up the big stuff (which college offenses aren’t always the best at doing). That will probably be the theme of the season on the defensive side this year, so let’s just hope it’s more good than bad.
- Luther Burden had one pass that he could get his hands on and was unable to bring it in. Outside of that, he was overthrown three times and then took an easy push pass in the backfield for 3 yards. How many times have we heard Eli Drinkwitz repeatedly point out an obvious misallocation of resources and say, “I have to get better?” It’s year three, Eli; you need to be better by now. Put it on a post-it note in your bathroom. Write it on your forehead. Assign a GA or coach on the sideline that does nothing but follow you around and say, “Get the ball to Burden.” I don’t care how he does it, but with two full years of play-calling experience in the SEC we can’t be scratching our heads as to how the best players don’t get featured and be met with a simple, “My bad.”
- Sorry, I’m not done criticizing the play-calling yet! I know it’s easy to complain about something that you aren’t privy to - RE: conversations about strategy, limitations of players, etc. - But is an Eli Drinkwitz offense ever going to feature quarterbacks throwing the ball deep more than twice per game? At this point I don’t even care if the quarterbacks can do it or not, Drink’s play calling (horizontal passes, off-tackle runs) keeps everything close to the line of scrimmage and makes it really easy for defenses to play close, disrupt, and stuff the run. I’m assuming Missouri has the receivers needed to go deep; now let’s have the quarterback take three or four shots just to even pretend to establish the threat and put some space at the line of scrimmage.
- On 10 of Missouri’s 34 rushing attempts, Missouri runners were tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. That’s a 29.4% stuff rate, one of the worst of the Drinkwitz era. Guess it doesn’t matter who gets starter-level snaps if the running back is getting tackled the second he gets the ball, huh?
- Finally, of Brady Cook’s 12 runs I logged six as scrambles after he dropped back to pass (plus the sack he took). That stuff works against an outmanned Louisiana Tech squad but teams that feature faster defenders will either: a.) catch him a lot more, and/or b.) open himself up to get hurt more frequently, like we saw briefly on Saturday. There’s clearly no Plan B at quarterback so I’m not sure if you want him to be more careful (because there isn’t a better option behind him) or to keep going (because it’s the best way to move the ball). Football is fun!
I didn’t realistically go into this game thinking Missouri was going to win but I certainly didn’t think they’d be detonated by a clearly superior opponent. The fact that an outcome like that is still on the table for this team is a cause for concern.
And, to speak for myself, it’s the biggest reason why the loss has spun me into a level of pissed off I’ve rarely been over the years. I thought the creativity we saw against an overmatched G5 team would be the new norm, not some brief interlude that quickly returns to the rock-fight offenses we’ve seen the past two years. And I foolishly thought Eli Drinkwitz’s Missouri Tigers were a program that was past this sort of outcome. Not against a Georgia or an Alabama, mind you, but from a program that is clearly your peer in terms of attendance, funding, access to recruiting hotbeds, fan interest, etc. The fact that we are entering Year Three of the Eli Drinkwitz Experience with two fully stocked “best recruiting classes EVAR” on the roster and the Tigers are still getting blasted into oblivion? That can’t be the case anymore.
Yes, K-State is likely a Top 25 - maybe even Top 15 - team. Yes, that Wildcat defense is still the 13th best in the country and will probably stay in that realm for the rest of the year. But the SEC is filled with defenses in the Top 30 and Drinkwitz seems to have no idea how to script or scheme his way around a defense that is very good (or better). He also has yet to play more than a few of the blue chippers he’s accrued along the way, insisting on playing Odom vets and transfers while only seven guys he recruited out of high school are starting. If you’re going to be bad, then at least be interesting, and if you’re going to be the best recruiter this school has ever seen, then at least play those talented guys you bring in. You might lose, but at least we as a fan base can buy into the “hope for the future” belief that can keep fans experiencing the worst beat downs while being focused on an optimistic future. If you have no optimistic future to sell and consistently lose road games or get blown out by any team that’s in the Top 35 nationally (and the SEC is full of those teams) then I’m not sure why the heck an administration should keep you around.
Again, barring some epic collapse, Drink is in no danger of getting fired. But to no longer have the goodwill of the fan base - which is clearly the case - is a dangerous plank to lose, whereas mortgaging present losses for future wins while displaying the dazzling talent sitting on the roster is the best way to keep people bought in.
Do that. Please.