Welcome back to “Five Plays”, where I’ll break down the previous week’s football game in, you guessed it, five plays. Over the past ten seasons, the average college football team has run around 70-73 plays per game, but most of them don’t matter as much as others. Oftentimes, there’s a select few that can tell the story of an entire game, and I’m here to break them down. To the film room!
One meme recap to describe Mizzou’s 34-27 win over Memphis:
St. Louis y’all, uh, uh, uh-ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Uh, can you feel that?!
For the first time since 2010, Mizzou was back in the Lou, and just like their previous five trips to the Gateway City, the Tigers emerged victorious. This time, instead of taking down Illinois, the Tigers defeated Memphis and moved to 4-0 for the first time since 2013.
While there were stretches of dullness on both sides of the ball, Mizzou put up their second consecutive performance where they looked energized, especially on offense. Brady Cook started 11/11 and ended the evening with 341 passing yards and two touchdowns. Cody Schrader and Nathaniel Peat combined for 188 yards on the ground, and Luther Burden set a career-high in catches (10) and receiving yards (177). After an electric offensive performance against Kansas State, more sparks flew in the Lou.
Defensively, the Tigers weren’t perfect, but they came up with a couple of timely takeaways and made plays when they mattered the most. Especially considering how beaten up the defense was with injuries (especially at corner), a handful of players stepped up and positively impacted the game.
Memphis came into The Dome expecting a victory; turns out it was all just a dream. Here are five plays that defined Mizzou’s unofficial homecoming win on Saturday:
Play #1: Cody Schrader (finally) finds daylight
“You won’t believe how many people straight doubted the flow” – Nelly, “Ride Wit Me”
After the game, Schrader doled out some impromptu life advice.
“You really find out who you are in the face of adversity.”
Schrader was faced with this situation when he lost a fumble inside of Mizzou’s 15-yard line late in the first quarter. It was the first fumble he’d lost in a Mizzou uniform, and it led to a Memphis touchdown just four plays later.
On top of that, Mizzou’s rushing attack had struggled to find a rhythm through the first three games of the season. While Schrader is clearly a graduate of the Steven Jackson School of Running Very Hard, running lanes have been mostly clogged, and explosive plays on the ground were still a rare sight. Many were probably straight up doubting the flow of Mizzou’s rushing attack because, well, there wasn’t much flow to begin with.
And then they figured it out.
Rather than going all Bill Belichick on Schrader and refusing him carries the rest of the way, Kirby Moore continued to pound the rock with him and Nathaniel Peat, and it worked.
“It’s a testament to what type of brotherhood we have, when the coaches still believe in you.” Schrader said. “Even though that I did fumble, they didn’t take me out of the game. They trusted me to put me right back in there.”
Behind an offensive line that cleared paths like a bunch of snowplows, Schrader finished the evening with the best single-game rushing performance of his Mizzou career. The cherry on top was a glorious scamper that ultimately sealed the game. Check out the blocking!
This play felt like a glass ceiling being broken. So many of Schrader’s runs have been stonewalled no more than a few yards beyond the line of scrimmage. To see him break loose (especially for a game-sealing touchdown) was, to be quite honest, liberating, both for Mizzou fans and Schrader himself.
Play #2: Blink and you’ll miss Marquis Johnson
“I drive fastly, call me Jeff Gordon in the Black SS with the navigation” – Nelly, “E.I.”
Whether it’s been Jeremy Maclin or Tavon Austin, St. Louis football fans have seen some speedsters tear up the turf at The Dome over the past few decades. Ok, now that I think about it, Maclin wasn’t actually that fast. He just found himself in the open field a lot at The Dome.
Nevertheless, even though it was just one game, Marquis Johnson certainly added his name to that storied list. Against Kansas State, Johnson got to show off that much-hyped speed for the first time when he hauled in a 42-yard rainbow from Brady Cook after burning the Wildcats’ secondary deep downfield. It prompted Mookie Cooper to publicly declare Johnson as the fastest wide receiver on the team; considering that Cooper, Burden and Dannis Jackson are all blazers themselves, the praise from Cooper was pretty high.
On Saturday, Johnson one-upped himself. Early in the first quarter, he went into tenth gear and toasted Memphis’ secondary like ravioli for the second-longest Missouri touchdown since the start of last season.
After the game, Drinkwitz summed up Johnson’s most elite skill succinctly.
“That sucker is fast as lightning.”
The play was wildly reminiscent of Burden’s first touchdown against K-State: play-action, time to throw, deep post, gorgeous throw, receiver way behind the defense, touchdown.
“The corner pressed, I saw green, and it was just ‘gotta go!’” Johnson said after the game.
The impact of Johnson’s speed cannot be underrated enough. Having a respectable downfield threat opens up other receivers underneath. Drinkwitz mentioned it postgame when talking about Burden’s 56-yard catch in the third quarter.
“Marquis cleared that side out,” Drinkwitz said. “They have so much respect for him.”
For an offense that sparsely tested the third level of defenses all of last season, they’ve already done it twice in the span of two weeks. On throws that traveled more than 15 yards down the field, Cook was 6/7 for 193 yards and a touchdown.
Speaking of Cook, did I mention how amazing the throw was? I did, actually, but I’ll say it again. Despite the target being very fast and very far away, Cook’s throw was so perfect that Johnson didn’t have to adjust himself in either direction to make the catch. The Chaminade High School grad got well-deserved applause from the crowd when he was introduced prior to the game, and the cheers got louder when he delivered another beauty for a score. Chef’s kisses all around.
Play #3: Theo Wease Island is a dangerous place
“And everytime I bust a rhyme, baby, ‘gimme some mo’” – Nelly, “E.I.”
In the basketball-verse, the St. Louis area has produced a couple of elite isolation scorers in Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal. I would’ve put Caleb Love in this category, but as my good friend Jonathan Lidskin pointed out, isolation scoring involves the shot actually going in, which Love, uh, doesn’t do that much.
Theo Wease is also an elite isolation scorer, just in a football sense. While he doesn’t win with craft like Tatum and Beal, Wease beats defenders mono-y-mono with his size. If Wease were a basketball player, he’d be someone you’d feed the ball to down low and have him go to work in the post.
Kirby Moore has done that a handful of times thus far with Wease. He’ll isolate him on a smaller defensive back, and Cook would find him for a chunk gain or, in the case of the Middle Tennessee State game, a touchdown. Every time Wease won a one-on-one matchup, I wanted Moore to give me some more of Wease Island.
On Saturday, we got more of Wease Island.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as identifying a mismatch and exploiting it. Wease got inside leverage on Memphis DB DeAgo Brumfield, then turned him around when he cut back to his left. With a couple of extra inches of height on Wease’s side, all Cook had to do was throw it in the general vicinity of Wease, and it’d be an easy six. Behind an A+ blocking effort from the offensive line, Cook did just that, and Mizzou was back up by two scores.
Play #4: For some reason, Luther Burden is wide open
“I’m like a human hot sauce” – Nelly, “St. Louie”
Remember how I compared Theo Wease to a post player in basketball? Burden is like if Jayson Tatum was a football player. He’ll put moves on defenders that are just…dizzying. He moves differently than everyone else on the field.
Burden had a handful of highlight-reel plays in his homecoming came, but the one that stuck out the most was his aforementioned 56-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter.
(skip to 0:32)
"I don't think anyone can tackle me in the open field."— Corey Miller (@corey_miller5) September 24, 2023
Here's a look at some of Luther Burden III's (@lutherburden3) electric plays yesterday for #Mizzou at the dome in St. Louis.
Burden III had 10 catches for 177 yards and had this to say after his impressive homecoming: pic.twitter.com/KOgs2hO7DW
Now, this wasn’t necessarily his weekly act of football wizardry; that happened earlier in the game, where he juked a Memphis DB to the turf and was tackled just shy of the end zone.
Rather, this play illustrates the Luther Burden Effect. When he caught Cook’s pass with all the room in the world to run, a different kind of feeling arose within The Dome. It was something along the lines of “LUTHER HAS THE BALL. WHAT IS HE GOING TO DO. THIS MIGHT BE AMAZING.” When Burden has the ball with space, we all wait for something spectacular to happen, because something spectacular usually happens.
While Burden came up hobbling after the play (just like a handful of Tigers did on Saturday), Burden was thankfully just suffering from cramps. Just like the ‘06 Cardinals, Burden and the rest of the Tigers didn’t let adversity win the day, and they ultimately reached the promised land (albeit to a much lesser degree than the ‘06 Cardinals).
Mizzou moving Burden to the slot has turned out to be one of the most impactful moves of the offseason. The move has had a similar impact as the Dallas Cowboys moving Micah Parsons to the edge. With Parsons, NFL Draft people recognized that he was an exceptional pass-rusher and possessed bonkers athleticism, but were skeptical of how impactful he could be as an off-ball linebacker. Turns out that having him rush the passer all the time (a.k.a. maximizing his strengths) was the smart move, and now, he’s arguably the most terrifying defender in the NFL.
With Burden, it was very obvious early on that he was a magician with the ball in his hands. However, he was put in the X-receiver spot frequently and was put in situations where he had to use conventional route-running skills to win his matchup. After all, he was the most talented receiver on the team, and the outside is where the most talented receivers almost always play.
The only issue was that Burden isn’t like most Uber-talented receivers. As we’ve all seen, he’s the most dangerous with the ball in his hands, and he’s gotten the best opportunities to cook in the open field out of the slot. That’s exactly where he was put to start this season, and now, he’s already surpassed his receiving yardage total from 2022 and is atop the statistical leaderboards.
Play #5: I (mostly) don’t care that the onside kick didn’t count
“We got a crowd that’s in a frenzy, Bob” — Nelly, “Batter Up”
Yes, Harrison Mevis made a mistake. Yes, it nullified what would've been an electric start to the game for Mizzou and what would’ve arguably been the sickest encore to a 61-yard game-winner in football history.
But that’s not what matters here. What matters is that they actually attempted an onside kick TO START THE GAME. They took a huge risk when they absolutely didn’t need to, and I kind of dig it!
These last couple of games have seen Drinkwitz & Co. evolve into a more adventurous football team (in a good way). They’re taking shots down the field. They’re going for it on fourth down. They’re taking risks, and although the hit rate isn’t 100%, the fact that they’re even trying this kind of stuff shows that these aren’t the same old Tigers.
“Everybody thinks I’m not aggressive, so I figured I’d show y’all I can play aggressive,” Drinkwitz said of the onside kick after the game.
Again, the kick didn’t count, but it did something arguably more important: it set the tone for the rest of the game. The crowd was ecstatic. A sudden wave of energy had engulfed the entire Mizzou sideline. It showed that the Tigers from Columbia were here to assert themselves as the superior team right away.
I think it’s time for some Imo’s.