This game didn’t follow a lot of the season’s trends for Mizzou.
The Tigers scored a season-low 14 points, recorded only 128 passing yards and had only two plays of over 20 yards. Brady Cook struggled to find a rhythm, Luther Burden III only had three receptions and the offensive line gave up six sacks.
But, the confetti (figuratively) rained down gold and black all the same.
Because, at the end of the day, this performance followed the most important trend of the season for these Tigers:
No matter the circumstances, pace of the game or likelihood of victory, the 2023 Missouri football team fought to win in any way that it could.
As a result, Missouri claimed a Cotton Bowl crown in taking down Ohio State by a score of 14-3 at AT&T Stadium on Friday night.
Cook and Cody Schrader delivered clutch second-half performances, and the duo combined for over 300 yards of offense and a pair of scores.
But, it took them a while to find a rhythm, and thus the stars of this game reside on defense. Jaylon Carlies, Daylan Carnell and Triston Newson were game-wreckers, combining for 21 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss as they all flew around the field and made plenty of highlight-caliber plays. With OSU facing personnel issues on offense, the Tiger defense was able to tee off on a young quarterback, and Blake Baker got more and more aggressive as time wore on.
But, there were bleak moments for Mizzou in this one.
Late in the third quarter, Ohio State led 3-0. The Missouri offense was out-of-sorts, but in a game in which offense came at a premium, all it was going to take was one explosive play to change the outcome.
And, just like he did against Kentucky, freshman receiver Marquis Johnson delivered that spark. After Mizzou’s receivers had struggled to create separation and Cook had been consistently swallowed in the pocket, Johnson found some space and hauled in a 50-yard reception to bring the Tigers to Ohio State’s 15-yard line. Cook had previously thrown for 40 yards in the entire game, but that one completion turned the tide.
A couple of plays later, Schrader was met at the three yard-line but plowed forward into the end zone to push Mizzou ahead 7-3 with 14:55 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Like it had done throughout, the Tiger defense forced a quick stop, giving the ball right back to Cook and Co. The battered and bruised quarterback drew the Buckeyes offsides and threw a well-placed ball to Theo Wease Jr. down the sideline for a 31-yard gain that placed Mizzou back in OSU territory.
From there, Eliah Drinkwitz got gutsy and went for it on 4th-and-1 from the Buckeye 23-yard line. Cook plunged forward to pick it up, and he later found a streaking Luther Burden in the end zone to push the advantage to 14-3 with 5:12 remaining, essentially icing the game.
Ohio State true freshman quarterback Lincoln Kienholz was thrust into this one early in the first half due to an injury to starter Devin Brown, and he found himself tasked with coming back from an 11-point deficit with a ferocious and aggressive defense bearing down his neck. The result was a strip-sack from Daylan Carnell and ensuing recovery from Joe Moore, putting the game back in the hands of the Tiger offense.
Schrader ran out the clock, beginning a celebration for the Mizzou faithful in Dallas, Columbia and all over the nation.
The rest of this game was an enigma in comparison to the ending for the Tigers.
This game resembled a chess match early on. Two opponents were methodically feeling each other out, adjusting to counter moves and lost pieces, prioritizing control of the board and trying to avoid any game-changing mistakes.
A 3-0 halftime score in favor of the Buckeyes was the result. Each offense had its own unique struggles to deal with in the locker room.
Brown, who was making his first career start in place of the departed Kyle McCord, went down with a left leg injury early in the first quarter. He attempted to fight through it, but after visibly limping on the field and being unable to move with great fluidity, he went to the locker room. Kienholz took over, and thus the playbook for Ryan Day and Brian Hartline shrunk immensely.
That allowed the Mizzou defense to pin its ears back and attack the youngster and a now one-dimensional offense. The team speed for Mizzou’s defense truly flashed, as Carlies recorded seven first-half tackles, Darius Robinson and Newson combined for four TFLs and Carnell laid down a handful of devastating hits. Outside of some promising runs from TreVeyon Henderson, the Buckeyes were swallowed at the line of scrimmage and thus unable to move the ball with much consistency. They even attempted to employ packages where Henderson and others took direct snaps, which had varied results.
With those trends occurring on the other side of the ball, one would figure that Missouri’s offense would be well-positioned to take advantage. Well, that unit was going head-to-head with the No. 1 passing defense in the nation as well as a pair of future NFL players on the OSU D-line. Cornerback Denzel Burke put on a clinic for scouts to take in as well, and the entire Buckeye secondary locked up Mizzou’s receivers en route to a dominant first half performance.
A ferocious pass rush that was spearheaded by Tyleik Williams and JT Tuimoloau created a fragile pocket that collapsed on Cook quickly throughout the half. As a result, he only managed to throw for 28 yards on five completions and instead was generally forced to scramble when he dropped back to pass.
Schrader found moderate success, especially on the edge, but Ohio State’s vaunted defense lived up to the hype in the first half and set the tone for the game. As a result, the punters became the stars of the show, each averaging over 40 yards per kick on six punts apiece during the opening frame.
And thus, the final chapter of the 2023 Missouri football season has come to a close. The Tigers will begin winter workouts shortly after this game and are set to open the 2024 season against Murray State on August 31.