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How much blame does Brady Cook deserve for Mizzou’s lack of explosive plays?

Brady Cook’s surface level stats appear to be fine. But the criticism is escalating. Is that fair?

Middle Tennessee v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Being the starting quarterback comes with all the glory and all of the blame. It’s why quarterbacks in the NFL are paid hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s why the first thing coaches do at the end of the season is take a look up and down the transfer portal to see which quarterbacks are available.

And it’s why the criticism for Brady Cook seems to be reaching an all-time high after the Tigers’ 23-19 win last week against Middle Tennessee.

On the surface, Cook has been fine through the first two games. Cook is 31-for-40 for 376 yards (9.4 yards per attempt) with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He’s added another two touchdowns on the ground. Now is probably a good time to mention Cook has only really played six quarters. So, in his time as the Tigers’ starter, he’s completed better than 75 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

The criticism, though, continues growing louder despite his strong surface-level statistics.

Some of that is understandable. The Tigers’ offense is last in the SEC in scoring (29 points per game). Only Arkansas (5.5) has averaged fewer yards per play than Missouri (5.7) through two weeks of play.

Oh, and did I mention that Missouri has just four passing plays of 20+ yards this season. Against South Dakota and Middle Tennessee State. Ahh, yeah, that’s where the criticism is coming from.

Cook is responsible for three of Missouri’s four explosive pass plays this season, with the other coming from Sam Horn on a deep pass to Mekhi Miller. Two of the three explosives by Cook were deep balls to Luther Burden that traveled more than 30 yards in the air. The outlier explosive play that came via YAC was the 50-yard pass last week on the wheel route to Nate Peat. That pass traveled just 10 yards in the air.

And this is where the facts end and the subjectivity begins. How much of that is on the quarterback, and how much of it is on the system Missouri runs? It’s hard to say with any amount of certainty.

Missouri’s offense has been relatively conservative since the day Drinkwitz arrived on campus. He values getting the ball out of his quarterback’s hands quickly and getting the ball into his playmakers hands. There’s some value to such a system. It worked for Chase Daniel. But it has to come with some explosives, as well. If you’re going to pick your spots going deep, you have to convert on those opportunities.

Let’s take a deeper look into what I’m describing there.

When you break down Cook’s pass attempts this season, 26 percent have come behind the line of scrimmage (6th most in the SEC), 41 percent have been thrown 0-9 yards beyond the line of scrimmage (4th most in SEC), 20.5 percent have been thrown 10-19 yards down the field (10th most in SEC) and just 10.3 percent have been thrown 20+ yards downfield (2nd to last in SEC).

For context, Bazelak attempted 12 percent of his passes 20+ yards downfield in 2021 (12th in SEC). Cook was at 15 percent last season.

This offense just doesn’t push the ball deep very often. It was even worse last year at Fresno State, for those curious. Kirby Moore’s quarterback, Jake Haener, pushed the ball deep just 11 percent of the time last season.

So, yeah, the system tends to go this way. That’s not to take away all blame from Cook. He’s already missed on a couple deep shots this season. But it’s to add context to why those deep misses feel so big every time they happen. There aren’t many opportunities to go deep. So when they come up, you HAVE to hit them.

I say all of that to say this: I understand the frustration with Cook. He’s far from a perfect quarterback. But many of the criticisms of Cook are actually a criticism of Missouri’s offense. Drinkwitz has a philosophy. He’s going to coach to that philosophy, hell or high water. That means punting on fourth and short. It means taking what the defense gives him, and not taking an inch more. It means trusting his defense. It means playing the running back that hits the right hole and picks up the blitz instead of the running back who breaks multiple big runs in that game.

This is who Drinkwitz is. This is who the Tigers are. It takes an overwhelmingly great quarterback to push those limits. Missouri doesn’t have that quarterback currently on the roster. So, this is what we’re likely to see the rest of the way. Some of that is on Cook. A lot of it is on Drinkwitz. Make of that what you will.