In 2022, Missouri’s defense faced a gauntlet of quarterbacks. Anthony Richardson, the fourth overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Hendon Hooker (second round pick), Will Levis (second round pick), Stetson Bennett (fourth round pick), and Sam Hartman (now at Notre Dame) are gone. In the 2023 season, they will again see Adrian Martinez as well as two other starters.
Here’s the projected starting quarterbacks the Tigers will likely see this upcoming season.
12 Teams, 12 Projected Starting Quarterbacks
|South Dakota||Aidan Bouman|
|Middle Tennessee State||Nicholas Vattiato|
|Kansas State||Will Howard|
|Louisiana State||Jayden Daniels|
|South Carolina||Spencer Rattler|
Now, Missouri’s defense in 2022 was near elite and expectations are high for a unit that returns nearly all of its pieces from a season ago. With no glaring weaknesses on that side of the ball, it creates a cliché answer as to who was effective against Missouri from the quarterback position. It really comes down to possessing an array of talent and experience at the collegiate level, so heading into the 2023 season, which quarterbacks could the Tigers defense potentially have their hands full against?
Jayden Daniels (Louisiana State)
Why is he a threat to MU’s defense: Jayden Daniels possesses certain qualities that make him arguably the best returning quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. He’s shown up in big moments and can create something out of nothing while also being a dynamic, shifty and fearless runner with the football. Despite a heartbreaking ending, he showed all these traits on the final drive of the Florida State game in the Superdome.
After appearing in 29 games in three years for Herm Edwards at Arizona State, Daniels transferred from the desert to LSU where he rattled off a 17-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio while rushing for 885 yards, the second most by an SEC quarterback.
His big game style of play was pivotal in two season-defining wins that helped propel LSU back atop of the SEC West after two seasons of 5-5 and 6-7. Against No. 7 Mississippi he was not only efficient through the air going 21-28 with 248 yards and a pair of scores, but also weaved his way for 121 rushing yards and three scores as the purple and gold Tigers overcame a 17-3 deficit for a 25-point victory.
A week later against a top five nationally ranked defense in Alabama, Daniels overcame being sacked six times to come up big once again in a thrilling one point victory over the Crimson Tide.
He’s not very big at 6’4” and only 205 pounds, but he is as poised as any other quarterback in the conference.
Joe Milton (Tennessee)
Why he is a threat to MU’s defense: No offense has been more effective against Missouri than perhaps ironically, Josh Heupel’s. Since his arrival at Rocky Top, the Vols offense has averaged 64 points while putting up 1,407 yards in two contests against the Tigers.
Hendon Hooker, who took the reigns from Joe Milton in the beginning of the 2021 season, put up video game numbers against MU going 40-54 with 580 yards and six touchdowns to go along with 130 rushing yards and two scores. In 2023, Milton is going to get another chance to be the full-time starter for the Vols. He is a lot bigger than Hooker and is equipped with a much stronger arm.
Milton did make an appearance towards the end of Tennessee’s 66-24 demolishing of Missouri on Nov. 12. Here’s how it went:
- On his first play he successfully executed a read option for a gain of 11 yards.
- This was followed by unleashing a rainbow pass over the middle to Ramel Keyton for a touchdown.
- On the next possession he reeled off an even deeper ball down the left sideline that travelled about 60 yards before land into the the hands of Squirrel White.
Final Stat Line: 116 total yards in four plays, and keep in mind both of these receivers are back as well.
Joe Milton absolutely LET THIS THING FLY. pic.twitter.com/bbSXwLbllH— CBS Sports College Football (@CBSSportsCFB) November 12, 2022
Huepel’s lightning quick and QB friendly offense has thrived with pretty much every QB that has operated in it, whether it’s Drew Lock, McKenzie Milton, Dillon Gabriel and Hooker. Milton took over for the Vols after Hooker tore his ACL and the offense seemingly didn’t miss a beat.
K.J Jefferson (Arkansas)
Why he is a threat to MU’s defense: K.J Jefferson has seen improvement in every single season he has played at Arkansas and when it’s all said and done he’ll leave Fayetteville as one of the most statistically polished quarterbacks in program history.
His first collegiate start came against Missouri in 2020 where he tallied 306 total yards and three scores. If it wasn’t for perhaps the best offensive showing by an Eli Drinkwitz-led MU team, Jefferson could be 2-1 against the Tigers. Behind Jefferson’s 320 total yard performance in 2021, the Razorbacks took down Missouri in 2021. While he put up 250 total yards against MU’s defense in 2022, it was Brady Cook’s best game game that helped Missouri prevail.
Like Milton, Jefferson’s size alone makes him a challenge to defend no matter who you are. At 6’3”, 240-plus pounds he’ll comfortably pound the ball in the run game as he recorded 10-plus rushing attempts during the 2022 season. He also has the arm strength to make throws at all levels of the field.
It’ll be Jefferson v. Missouri’s defense vol. 4 on Black Friday.
Devin Leary (Kentucky)
Why he is a threat to MU’s defense: Bad luck spoiled Devin Leary’s 2022 season as he went down with an injury halfway through, but in 2021, Leary was in the conversation with the likes of Kenny Pickett, Sam Hartman and Sam Howell as one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC.
While he doesn’t create many plays with his legs, he is very polished as a passer with his arm. In 2021, he set NC State’s single season passing record with 35 touchdowns putting him above Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Mike Glennon, Ryan Finley and Jacoby Brissett. This came to only five interceptions while completing 65.7% of his passes.
Missouri will be looking for its first victory in Lexington since 2013 but it’ll have to go against a quarterback that is in place to successful replace Will Levis.
Are there another others that present a tough test?
Missouri will see both Graham Mertz (Florida) and Will Howard (Kansas State) this season.
Mertz was was once thought to be the guy to help elevate Wisconsin, but after three straight mediocre offensive seasons by the Badgers, he’ll get a fresh start with the Gators. Howard has had an up and down collegiate career but did help lead K-State to a Big 12 Championship and Sugar Bowl berth in relief of Adrian Martinez.
Spencer Rattler is another quarterback to consider, but he was relatively ineffective against MU in late October. A big question is how well will Carson Beck perform for Georgia as he takes over for Stetson Bennett? Kirby Smart and Georgia’s roster itself is going to allow it to succeed but Beck enters this year as an unknown entering 2023.
As stated previously, Missouri’s defense was fantastic last season. In the SEC last season it gave up the fourth fewest amount of passing touchdowns while allowing just allowing a 59.38 completion percentage and just over 200 yards per game. It also tied Alabama in second place with 38 sacks. Quarterbacks aren’t going to have it easy against MU’s defense but then again, there’s a few who the Tigers are going to have to perform well against in 2023.