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Five plays that defined Thursday’s win over South Dakota

It was an eventful opening night for the Tigers. Here are five plays that summarized the victory.

NCAA Football: South Dakota at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to this new series called “I don’t know what to name this quite yet”, 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; oftentimes, however, there are 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 of Thursday’s 35-10 win over South Dakota:

On the surface, Thursday was a rock solid game for Mizzou. Brady Cook only threw four incompletions and added another Ford-tough rushing touchdown to his highlight tape. Cody Schrader looked like a Monster truck behind an offensive line that looked noticeably better (albeit against lesser competition). Luther Burden III was a wizard in space once again. The defense suffocated South Dakota for most of Thursday night, with Johnny Walker Jr. being the star of the show.

But the frowny face mostly stems from the annoying cloud hanging over the offense: the QB battle. After the game, Drinkwitz seemed understandably peeved with reporters peppering him with questions about Cook and Sam Horn. Along with the kicking unit putting on their best 2010 San Diego Chargers impersonation, Thursday’s game was arguably the least satisfying 25-point victory in the history of college football.

Nevertheless, there were a handful of plays that defined Thursday’s win, both good and bad. Let’s dive in.

Play #1: Brady Cook hits Mekhi Miller for the first touchdown of the season

As previously mentioned, Thursday’s game centered around the quarterbacks. Cook started the first half and, for the most part, played pretty well. He wasn’t asked to create much himself – a lot of Thursday’s aerial attack centered around quick throws, most of which were screen passes behind the line of scrimmage. Cook did exactly what was asked of him, and that led to the most efficient passing performance of his career.

To preface, Cook’s few intermediate and deep throws were, uh, iffy. A throw over the deep middle sandwiched Theo Wease Jr. in between two Coyote defensive backs. Later in the half, a floater down the right sideline to Luther Burden III was off-target, requiring Burden to leap unnecessarily (although, of course, Burden hauled in the pass).

However, Cook’s best throw of the night was a beauty over the middle of the field. Out of the shotgun, Cook looked off a USD defensive back on the left side where Wease and Burden were. That opened up the middle of the field for Miller, who ran a post route right past a Coyote linebacker. Cook delivered a strike for Mizzou’s first touchdown of the season.

That’s advanced quarterbacking. Any purposeful manipulation of the defense is something to be pleased with. Cook knew exactly what he was doing, and it resulted in a touchdown.

“Perfect play call, perfect route by Mekhi,” Cook said of the play after the game.

It also capped off a wonderful offensive drive that featured a ton of motion, a couple of jet sweeps and quick tempo, all of which are refreshing changes from last season.

Now, (Dracula music plays) we must talk about the other quarterback…

Play #2: Sam Horn’s heavily criticized incompletion

Sam Horn was dealt a tough hand last night. The plan seemed to be for Cook to start all of the first half, then for Horn to take over the rest of the way. Considering that South Dakota had produced a whopping 62 yards of total offense in the first half, nothing indicated that their opening drive of the second half would take too long.

Of course, that’s exactly what happened. The Coyotes took over eight minutes off of the clock before Horn had a chance to go out on the field. When he finally got in the game, Mizzou…ran the ball. A lot. Horn only threw the ball five times, much to the chagrin of the faction of Mizzou supporters who wanted to see Horn let loose.

Although his opportunities were limited, Horn showed the arm talent that’s had him oozing with intrigue since he stepped on campus. Even on the interception that bounced off of Miller’s chest and into the hands of a plodding Coyote DB, there was a noticeable zip on the ball. His best play was the 31-yard rifle he unleashed to Miller, which caused a happy uproar from the crowd.

That’s not the play I want to highlight; instead, we’ll look at one of his two incompletions. On that same drive, Mizzou is facing a third-and-seven. Horn takes the snap out of the shotgun and immediately releases a rainbow towards Wease who, at first glance, appears to have one-on-one coverage on the outside. Although Wease made the catch, the ball was well out of bounds.

The reason I’m highlighting this play is because it was a poor read by Horn. As the ball sails out of bounds, a USD defensive back pops into the frame; his positioning in the end zone indicated that a jump ball to the left side was not the look Horn should’ve gone for. If Wease had beaten his man and Horn threw an accurate ball towards the left pylon, that pass could’ve been easily intercepted. Drinkwitz confirmed after the game that Horn made a bad decision.

“It was press on the boundary. {Horn} thought it was one-on-one, it was clearly two-man, which was a poor read,” Drinkwitz said. “Based off alignment, the dig should be wide open.”

Again, it’s totally understandable to feel that Horn wasn’t given a fair shot on Thursday compared to Cook, especially because Horn just needs to play. In order to get a proper read on not just a quarterback, but any athlete, they need to get in-game reps. However, Cook appeared more ready than Horn on Thursday, and this play was one example of exactly that.

Play #3: Ennis Rakestraw takes flight

To put it nicely, South Dakota looked like a bunch of Coyotes in headlights on offense. They kept running into seas of black, both on the ground and in the air. Kris Abrams-Draine and Ennis Rakestraw were sparsely tested on the outside, and other than a few small stretches late in the game, USD literally could not go anywhere on offense.

My personal favorite defensive play in the game happened about halfway through the third quarter. USD quarterback Aidan Bouman lines up in the shotgun with two receivers to his left and one to his right. Mizzou only sends four defensive lineman after Bouman, including Walker Jr., who has to fight past a tight end and a running back. The tight end barely gets a whiff of Walker, who then proceeds to almost run right past the running back and comes oh so close to a PBU. Bouman lofts a floater down the left side to what appears to be an open receiver, but safety Ennis Rakestraw flies like an eagle for a PBU that easily could’ve been a pick if he went up with two hands. Nevertheless, it was definitely worthy of a lil’ dancey dance afterward.

There was so much good stuff in this play. Questions were aplenty about how Mizzou would replace Isaiah McGuire, Trajan Jeffcoat and Arden Walker off of the edge. Obviously, the sample size needs to increase, but Walker’s dominant performance was certainly promising.

It was also a display of how fun Blake Baker’s defense can be. Oftentimes, when we think of flamboyant schemes, offense is the first thing we think of. But like Kirby Moore on the offensive side of the ball, Baker has shown a desire to get funky on defense, and this play was a perfect example of such.

After the game, Rakestraw shared how excited he was to play out of position for once. Again, it wasn’t just a testament to the versatility of Mizzou’s defensive backs, but also Baker’s willingness to foster that versatility.

“Coach Baker had a play dialed up. It worked to perfection,” Rakestraw said after the game. “I finally got to play safety.”

Play #4: Some good ol’ smash mouth football

Flowers must be given to Cody Schrader and the entire offensive line. After running lanes seemed closed off for all of last season, Schrader finally had ample space to run against South Dakota. His 148 yards on the ground were the first time he’d crossed the century mark on the ground in a Mizzou uniform.

Out of the handful of chunk gains Schrader picked up on the ground, this one was my favorite:

This play had more seals than the Navy. Xavier Delgado, Javon Foster, Mookie Cooper and BRETT NORFLEET all threw excellent blocks. Then, in classic Schrader fashion, he kept powering forward for an extra couple of yards.

The zone running plays were working all night long for Mizzou. Outside zone, inside zone, 2-3 zone, AutoZone, didn’t matter. If Kirby Moore called a zone run on Thursday, something good probably happened.

Again, South Dakota is by far the worst team Mizzou will play all season long. But the signs of life on the ground were most definitely promising.

Play #5: Luther Burden finds the end zone

I simply couldn’t write this article without mentioning Burden. While this touchdown was in garbage time, nothing about this touchdown was garbage at all:

Yes, Burden broke a couple of tackles, but he also got a little help from his friends. It was Stephens sealing the outside. It was Connor Tollison busting his tail to knock a USD defender just enough out of Burden’s way. It was Foster getting to the second level and helping clear Burden’s path to the end zone. The touchdown will be credited to Burden, but it took a team effort to help get him there.

In an offense that heavily emphasizes screen passes and quick throws, outside and second-level blocking are going to be paramount to success. With the help of both the offensive line as well as the pass-catchers, those aspects already look like they’ve been improved upon, and the obvious hope will be for that to continue against tougher competition.