Luther Burden. Brady Cook. Harrison Mevis. Eli Drinkwitz.
One is a 5-star receiver who, despite being utilized more than any other freshman in the country last year, underwhelmed in his freshman campaign and was looked to making a leap in production in Year 2.
One is a quarterback who played all but one game of the ‘22 campaign with a torn labrum and has been vilified and ridiculed so much that it culminated into some “terminally online brain” escaping containment, leading to some Mizzou “fans” in the stands booing as his name was read over the PA for player introductions.
One is a fan favorite player who was deadly accurate for the first 20 games of his career and has fallen off in the accuracy department over the past ten games, no longer being the automatic 3 points that he was previously able to deliver.
One is a career-climbing head coach who is renowned for his aggression and forward-thinking off the field and reductive, fearful game management on the field.
And in one game — a game that had the making of defining the entire season — all four stepped up and delivered.
Burden with his second consecutive 100+ receiving game and two touchdowns. Cook with his first 300+ yard passing game, complete with two touchdowns and no turnovers. Drinkwitz FINALLY cutting the offense loose and letting them play an aggressive style in the passing game. And, of course, Mevis with the longest field goal kick in SEC history — being discussed as possibly the greatest field goal made ever in national conversational circles — that, oh yeah, bailed out a total brainfart of a moment for the aforementioned head coach.
All while beating a former regional rival ranked in the Top 15 of the country that had dump-trucked this team last year.
Football is fun again. This team matters again. And now bigger things are possible.
BUT FIRST. Even before we go “1-0 each week,” let’s recap what this win looked like.
Here’s the advanced box score:
I spend all offseason looking at a team’s profile, both in that previous year and five years prior. I look at tendencies, positions that tend to play well, styles that are chosen on both sides of the ball, etc. I then use that info while analyzing what a team has done so far this year to get a better idea of what we can expect in each matchup. I’m not 100% right all the time but I feel like I get it pretty close.
And then, sometimes, a grindy, ball-possessive team comes out and runs tempo while flinging it all over the yard. And your similar, grindy, boring, reductive offense decides that this game, THIS ONE, is the one where you throw three years of “outside zone or bust” out the window and start chucking it deep.
I liked being wrong here. It was fun! And, believe it or not, the one stat the skewed heavily in favor of Mizzou was that the Tigers’ passing game was much more explosive and efficient than Kansas State’s. What year is it again?
When Missouri Has the Ball
We all know Luther Burden is HIM. It’s amazing to watch and he somehow always surprises me at least once a game. But don’t overlook his supporting cast. Theo Wease Jr. is slowly starting to emerge as a viable second threat, especially in the more possession-types of routes and catches needed. Brett Norfleet has had three monster catches in the past two games and is a welcome addition to a position that has been vacant of production for the past four years. Mookie Cooper had his best game as a collegiate player and young Marquis Johnson made a statement introduction with his 42-yard catch. Yes, K-State’s secondary is not nearly as good as it has been. I don’t care. Watching the Tigers sling it around the field made my “forged in the Chase Daniel era” football heart flutter.
Ground and Pound
So much for this one, huh? Missouri flipped the script and decided to wing it against a shaky secondary rather than run it into the teeth of the defense and, surprisingly, it worked. I’m not mad, just impressed. But still, the goal of at least a 45% success rate on the ground was certainly not met as the Tigers finished with 38.5%. Luckily it didn’t matter.
Winner: Kansas State
Convert Third Downs
This one is particularly unbelievable to me. I figured a 60% conversion rate was necessary to keep the ball away from K-State and generate scoring opportunities and, halfway through the 3rd quarter, Missouri was 1-9 in 3rd-down conversions. See what explosive plays can do for you? You don’t even need to mess with those pesky 3rd-downs!
Winner: Kansas State
At least this one came to fruition. Mizzou snagged an interception and didn’t turn the ball over. Nice.
When Kansas State Has the Ball
For the game, K-State did an excellent job of running their offense. Even when Will Howard was hurt and they ran the very obvious, “HEY AVERY JOHNSON IS IN AT QUARTERBACK AND IS GOING TO RUN IT” plays, they managed a 41% passing success rate and a 43% rushing success rate while eclipsing 400 yards on the day. The problem is that, despite running 9 more plays than Missouri, they average nearly a full yard less than the Tigers did and situationally bogged down when they absolutely needed to keep moving. Credit to Blake Baker’s boys: they might not be as havoc-y as they used to be but they are still just as good.
Win On Third Down
Mizzou came pretty close to hitting the goal of holding the Wildcats below a 45% 3rd-down conversion rate, finishing with a 47.1% conversion rate. For our purposes that was close enough, but from a technicality standpoint...
Winner: Kansas State
Turn Them Over!
As previously stated, Missouri won the turnover battle 1-0. Pretty good, IMHO.
The Little Things
As mentioned previously, the nearly 1 full yard better average in yards per play that Missouri held over K-State became significant as the game wore on. The Tigers also managed to generate one more scoring opportunity than the ‘Cats and didn’t turn the ball over. All other field position and special teams stats were basically a draw.
The other item that became a shocking factor comes up in the demerits. K-State is renowned for the disciplined play, and on Saturday, they wound up committing 7 penalties for 65 yards. Now, some of that might be the crowd (false starts, delay of game, offsides, etc.) but they also just had some bonehead plays thrown in there for fun. In addition, two of their better playmakers also had two drops in spots where they absolutely would have converted a 1st down. You don’t get that type of performance often from KSU so we should all be very glad it happened.
- Mizzou came out of the gate firing, hitting a 59% success rate in the 1st quarter even as Kansas State raced out with a 44% success rate. Both teams regressed in the 2nd - Missouri by quite a bit - and while the Tigers took a while to get going in the 3rd, KSU was whipping up their best offensive quarter. Luckily they ran out of juice in the 4th and Mizzou hit 50% once again to finish strong. Just an excellent, entertaining game start to finish.
- When we talk about Blake Baker around these parts we inevitably talk about havoc. You know...tackles for loss, passes broken up, turnovers, things of that nature. And last year Baker’s defenses were hanging out in the 30-40% range for havoc (meaning 30-40% of their plays were disruptive plays) during wins and would drop to the 20% range in losses. And, oddly enough, that’s not really the case so far this year. Missouri is 3-0 with havoc rates of 12.2% (South Dakota), 39.6% (Middle Tennessee), and 22.2% (Kansas State). If those happened last year they would be three of the five lowest havoc total in ‘22. Now, in all my previews I mentioned that havoc is not a linear stat; much like 3-pointers in basketball, it can be random when they connect and one particularly high year can lead to a famine the following year and vice versa. I’m not saying we’re in a havoc famine right now; what I am saying is that this is a Top 20 defense according to SP+ and they’re not nearly as disruptive as last year. That is a good thing; it shows that they can play “standard” defense that doesn’t rely on havoc and still win.
- Missouri’s running game was certainly the least impressive thing of the night and it was easily the worst rushing performance of the nascent ‘23 season. K-State is a Top 10 rushing defense, however, so this isn’t a scenario where Schrader and Peat and the offensive line just forgot to show up and work hard or whatever. And the fact that “this offensive line can’t impose its will on elite defensive lines” exists shouldn’t be some mind-altering revelation, either. But the SEC is a line-of-scrimmage league and, assuming Missouri can’t transform into an air-raid team and consistently throw it 40 times for the rest of the year, they’re going to need an offensive line combination that can at least maintain the 2.4 yard lines per carry that they maintained in the first two games of the year.
- During the broadcast, Taylor Zarzour cited a stat scrounged up by their gameday crew, highlighting how Missouri was getting the majority of their yardage on 1st-down and hardly anything else on subsequent downs. Now, throw aside the fact that an offense will always have more 1st downs than 2nd, 3rd, and 4th downs by design; the numbers they threw out were so skewed that I thought to myself, “huh, I wonder how that compares to the other games this year. So, I did some more charting.
Yeah, that’s an extreme skew. 327 of Missouri’s 429 yards came on 29 1st-downs. 70 yards came from 20 2nd-downs, and 30 yards came from 13 3rd-downs. But how does that compare to the other games? Well..
Against South Dakota, Missouri earned the majority of their yardage on 2nd-down, despite having four fewer chances to do so than 1st-down. And...
Once again, Missouri gained the majority of their yardage on 1st-down, 58.9% of it in fact, despite 1st down being only 43% of their plays.
It’s interesting. I’m not sure if there’s any long-term implications to doing this sort of thing, although I will point out that you don’t have to worry about 3rd-downs as much if you just keep gaining 11 yards per play on 1st-down.
In easily the best Missouri game of this season - and potentially of the Drinkwitz era - both teams broke character a bit and played a very entertaining, stress-inducing game that literally came down to the wire. College football team are notoriously inconsistent from week to week but it’s ok to feel good about your Missouri Tigers right now, especially since they played what is probably their B or B+ game against a ranked opponent.
But when you win these types of games it means every game after it is just as important, if not more. And Missouri has a chance to make a real statement in St. Louis against a Memphis team that is much better than we might think there were heading into the season.