In 2022, Texas Christian became the most unique team we’ve seen in the short history of the College Football Playoff. The Horned Frogs weren’t a traditional powerhouse or a juiced-up Group of Five team, like — ahem — Cincinnati. Out of the middling pack of the Power Five, TCU rose, becoming the darlings of the college football landscape. It took down Michigan in the CFP semifinals advancing to the National Championship game, one of two teams along with 2013 Auburn to make it after posting a losing record the year prior.
Before the 2022 season, both Missouri and TCU were similar in terms of success. From 2018 to 2021 the Horned Frogs went 23-24 while finishing no higher than fifth place in the Big 12. In that same time span, MU recorded a 25-24 record.
In 2021, both teams finished with seven losses and atrocious defenses. TCU’s defense finished 117th in points allowed and 112th in Football Outsiders' defensive rating. MU, on the other hand, placed 116th in points allowed and 101st in the same defensive metric.
Depending on how you look at it, TCU appeared to be in less good shape heading into 2022 compared to Missouri. The program said goodbye midseason to Gary Patterson, the leader in Fort Worth since the 2001 midseason. It turned to Sonny Dykes, who found success down the road at SMU, but heading into the year nothing much was expected of the Horned Frogs. Many picked them to finish toward the bottom half of the Big 12. No one knew that Max Duggan would rise to be a Heisman finalist or the fact that Kendre Miller would be one of the best running backs in the nation. Quentin Johnston rose to be a first round talent while Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson won the Jim Thorpe Award.
Now, anyone can make a point how every .500 or sub .500 team can shock the world next season but we're focused on Missouri over here. The Tigers don’t need to be an exact carbon copy of TCU. One true thing is that Missouri’s defense was stellar last season and the expectations on the side of the ball should, at worst, remain the same. But, what are some things that MU can learn from the Horned Frogs as it embarks on a make-or-break 2023 campaign?
Playing cleaner football, especially in close games
Let’s go back to Oct. 1, 2022. Following a score from Georgia’s Kenny McIntosh to cut Missouri’s lead to 22-19 early in the fourth quarter, it appeared as if the Tigers would strike back on its next offensive drive.
Barrett Banister crafted his way for a 10-yard gain on a short pass from Brady Cook and following a 15-yard rush by Cody Schrader, the Tigers were across midfield. Three plays later on a 3rd and 7, Cook again connected with Banister to UGA’s 38-yard line for a first down, keeping the drive alive, and at worst putting up three points. But that never came to fruition.
Right guard Mitchell Walters got caught up in a stunt from the Bulldogs’ front seven, resulting in an illegal hands to the face penalty, effectively killing the drive. Georgia re-possessed the ball, and took the lead. The rest is history.
Half of Missouri’s games were decided by a touchdown or less in 2022. It won just two of them (Arkansas and Vanderbilt). TCU, on the other hand? 6-1 in such games. Now, one could say that luck played a factor in these contests, but is that really the case?
A week before the UGA game Missouri lost in overtime to Auburn. Everyone remembers MU’s version of “The Fumble” and Harrison Mevis’ missed chip-shot field goal at the end of regulation. One thing that sticks with me is the offsides call on Auburn’s missed field in overtime giving the home team more life.
Five weeks later against Kentucky, another penalty was the deciding factor in that game...whether it was the right call or not (I still don’t know what a player is supposed to do in that situation).
The Tigers were one of the most penalized teams in all of FBS last season with 7.77 per game. Only eight teams were worse. Was one of these teams TCU? No. In fact, three of four CFP teams were among the top 25 least penalized teams in the nation.
How big were an extra three penalties per game for Missouri? Three alone cost them three potential victories.
An offensive mind that gets the best out of its skill position players
Missouri failed to produce 17 or more points in half of its games last season under the play-calling of Eli Drinkwitz, and now the keys of the offense have been placed in the hands of Kirby Moore.
For TCU last season, Garrett Riley took came over with Sonny Dykes and the Horned Frogs’ offense took off. Not to mention he’s the brother of Lincoln Riley, one of the best offensive minds in the game.
Moore, the brother of Kellen Moore, another fantastic offensive mind but at the NFL level, is coming in as a bit of an unknown this season, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Before being promoted to OC, Moore coached his former playing position in college, wide receiver from 2017-22 as well as being the passing game coordinator from 2020-21. Moore helped get the best out of Jalen Moreno-Cropper, an All-Mountain West receiver and is now a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Nikko Remigio came over from Cal an excelled as well for the Bulldogs in 2022. Running back Jordan Mims also produced 1,300 yards and 18 scores as well.
Moore comes to the SEC with a glass half-full offense at the skill position. A wide receiver room with depth, two returning running backs and a quarterback who appears to be healthy for 2023. It’s going to be up to him to get the most out of them for a full 12-plus games much like Riley did at TCU.
And of course it starts up front
TCU’s had a fantastic offensive line in 2022. Steve Avila (All-American guard), Alan Ali (First-team All-Big 12) and Brandon Coleman (Honorable mention All-Big 12).
Outside of Javon Foster, MU’s offensive line was shaky. This isn’t a recipe for success, especially for a quarterback that wasn’t healthy last season. They also simply weren’t good in the running game, either.
Percent of runs with a blown blocking assignment*— parker, is it football season yet? (@statsowar) July 16, 2023
2023 P5 teams in 2022
* as charted by SIS pic.twitter.com/bA5HWb860M
Now, fortunately Foster returns to anchor the left tackle spot. He’ll be joined up front by Cam’Ron Johnson, who will compete at the center postion. The now former Houston Cougar was one of the best linemen in the American Athletic Conference last season. Drinkwitz, Moore, Cook and all Missouri should be delighted at the fact that the All-AAC guard allowed just a single sack last season, none in the final 11 games.
The questions lie within the rest of the unit. Armand Membou, a former four-star recruit who played in the final five games at right tackle, will be shifting to left guard and should take a step forward after gaining experience as a true freshman. But can Xavier Delgado, Connor Tollison or EJ Ndoma-Ogar and Connor Tollison take a step forward? And what about right tackle Marcellus Johnson who has plenty of playing experience from his days at Eastern Michigan?
Along with Moore’s playing calling, this core is another x-factor into making the offense go and they are going to need to be key when facing the defensive fronts of Georgia, LSU, etc. for 2023.
At the end of the day none of this matters if it isn’t for a seven letter word, culture. You can’t exactly quantify it but it’s arguably the most important factor when building a team and the glue that holds everything together. TCU had it last year. Sonny Dykes came in and emphasized it and in the end he got his players to buy in and it translated to the most successful season in program history. Heck, another example is Dennis Gates coming in and completely turning around the basketball program with an emphasis on culture.
How is Missouri’s culture? That’s something that we truly don’t know and possibly will never know. Social media post and videos by the team aren’t always truly telling the story and this isn’t suggesting that the culture within the program is bad or good.
But one thing that is for sure is that it will go a long way in determining success for a make-or-break season in 2023. Mixing that with an improved offensive line, play-calling and playing more disciplined football will result in more wins but the question is will we see it?