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Mizzou’s offense overcomes inconsistency but remains a concern moving forward

The Tigers come away with a victory over MTSU, but at some point, the offense is going to have to rely on more than Luther Burden III bailing it out.

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri defeated Middle Tennessee State 23-19 to move to 2-0, but here’s a snippet from the Tigers’ offensive performance. It took 29 minutes and 32 seconds for them to find the end zone as Brady Cook snuck it in from a yard out, giving Missouri a three-point halftime lead.

Here’s a better snippet. Trying to put the game away in the fourth quarter, essentially, Cook tried to avoid a sack and ended up avoiding keeping the football in his hands, which rolled all the way into the end zone for safety and breathing life into the Blue Raiders’ chances at a potential comeback.

“Obviously, we got beat on a protection issue right there. We made the first guy miss, and then Brady (Cook) got pressured and was trying to make a throw,” Eli Drinkwitz said. “Obviously, you can’t do that, and we’ve got to be much better in protection.”

Cook escaped the sack, not pinning that statistic on the offensive line on that particular play, but the Blue Raiders’ high-pressure defense got to Cook three other times on the night.

“Four sacks is way too many. (I’m) definitely disappointed by the amount of pressure that we faced tonight. I didn’t anticipate that going into the game,” Drinkwitz said. “I would say there’s a good probability there’s gonna be some personnel changes. We’re not gonna sit back. We’re gonna make changes.”

Following Missouri’s four-point victory, there were more question marks than answers about the long-term progression of this offense. In order to get over that “hump,” the Tigers must show signs of improvement after averaging under 25 points per game last season. Eyes are also on new offensive coordinator Kirby Moore to see if he can elevate this unit, specifically Cook, the wide receiver corps, and the offensive line. It’s safe to say that the verdict is still out on if that will be accomplished in 2023.

Missouri’s offense came out flat against the Blue Raiders. Its first two possessions resulted in eight plays for 15 yards. Brady Cook uncorked a deep ball pass to Burden, but the pass was broken up at the last second.

The second possession resulted in a sack by Middle Tennessee State’s Drew Francis, who then ended Missouri’s third possession, resulting in a field goal. To make matters worse, the offensive line suffered back-to-back penalties on the drive, moving the Tigers back from the six-yard line.

Cook, who finished going 14-19 with 204 yards and two scores to go along with a rushing touchdown, wasn’t entirely impressed with his performance, either.

“I think we just need to clean up overall, just penalties, and I need to be better. I need to be more accurate,” Cook said.

Burden, who missed a golden opportunity in the early part of the game, was practically the only wide receiver who consistently showed up, finishing with eight receptions for 117 yards, his first 100-yard receiving game as a Tiger. This statistic accounted for 72% of the receptions from the receiving room. Only two other receivers recorded a reception, and prior to the season, Drinkwitz said the unit needed to be multiple receivers deep.

Now, Missouri did win this game to start 2-0 for the first time since 2018. Finding silver linings, the Tigers’ offense woke up on their first two offensive drives of the second half. Burden hauled in a deep shot from Cook, while Wease caught his first touchdown in a Missouri uniform, his only catch of the night.

Nathaniel Peat scored on a beautiful play design, beating the entire Blue Raiders defense on a wheel route.

“I’m really proud of Nate,” Drinkwitz said.

But that was only one of his nine touches throughout the entire game for 100 total yards. It leaves questions about why he isn’t involved in the offense more.

“He didn’t get enough opportunities to carry the ball tonight. We’ve gotta get that corrected. But he did show up big time in the pass game.”

Here’s the good and bad news. It was a pretty underwhelming day for the Southeastern Conference teams Missouri faces later on. Arkansas put up just 28 on Kent State, Kentucky struggled with Eastern Kentucky, Vanderbilt lost to Wake Forest, and Austin Peay and Furman each put up a fight against Tennessee and South Carolina, respectively.

The bad news is Missouri doesn’t play any of these teams next week. Their opponent is No. 15 Kansas State, who put together an impressive performance against a good Troy team.

Missouri cannot start as slowly on offense as it did on Saturday against the Blue Raiders. The inconsistencies and struggles will allow Kansas State to run away with a second consecutive victory over the Tigers.

“Tomorrow morning, it’s go-time,” Cook said. “There’s a lot to fix.”

Mizzou faces off next Saturday at Faurot Field at 11 a.m.