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Revisiting 2023’s “Count The ‘Ifs’”

Mizzou finished 11-2 so let’s see how many items on my preseason checklist the team accomplished!

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Before every football season I continue the tradition set by The Godfather Bill C. and come up with a checklist of accomplishments for the Missouri football team to complete. Some lead to a winning season, some lead to a 10-win season, and the best seasons of recent years check a lot more boxes than other lackluster seasons the Tigers have gone through.

Here’s a quick link to 2023’s list. But I will also address each point here and give my thoughts on whether the goal was completed or not. A lot of these can be a bit nebulous so your mileage may vary, which is fine! Let’s go point by point:

The following goals were laid out for Missouri to win 7 games in 2023

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Missouri at Ohio State Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

1. If the 2023 quarterback is better than 2022 Brady Cook

At the onset of the season, I thought that whoever the 2023 quarterback was needed to finish the season with a better performance than 2022 Brady Cook, and that specifically meant having an improved accuracy (64.8%), more yardage (2,739), better Touchdown-to-Interception ratio (2:1), and a better Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt (6.2).

2023 Brady Cook finished with a 66.1% accuracy (check), 3,317 passing yards (check!), a 3.5-1 Touchdown-to-Interception ration (check), and a 8.4 Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt (check plus!)

Verdict: Pass

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 Goodyear Cotton Bowl - Missouri vs Ohio State Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2. If the offensive line is Top 50 in run blocking instead of 90th

The 2022 Missouri offensive line ranked 90th in run blocking and the whole offense stalled out because of their inability to get going on the ground. Whether you blame the back or the line, adding a new offensive line coach and bring an impact transfer lineman with him meant that Mizzou needed to show some notable improvement in their run blocking metrics.

In one year, the Tiger line went from 90th to 46th, improving by 4% from ‘22 to ‘23.

One note: Mizzou actually regressed in blown run block percentage (1.0% in ‘22, 1.3% in ‘23) which is something to monitor, especially with a brand new running back taking the majority of the carries in 2024.

Verdict: Pass

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 Goodyear Cotton Bowl - Missouri vs Ohio State Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

3. If the defense maintains 2022’s havoc rate

The 2022 defense finished with a 19.2% havoc rate, 11th in the country. But, also, the defense needed to be super havoc-y to carry an...inconsistent...offense that struggled to score. To my point, Mizzou won two games with a havoc rate under 30% and one of those was against FCS Abilene Christian; essentially, if the defense could blow up every third play then the Tigers had a chance to win. That’s a fun way to play but awful for consistent wins.

In 2023 Missouri’s defense finished with a havoc rate of 18.1%, 21st in the country. They lost to LSU when they managed a 13% havoc rate and lost to Georgia with a 20% havoc rate. Other than that, they won two games with a havoc rate under 20% and all the other were over 20%, including three games over 30%.

It might not have been as high an average as last year but they also had a competent offense that could pull its own weight and the defense could be more adaptable in how they got stops

Verdict: Fail

That’s a mere three items listed to get to a 7-win season, and the Tigers passed two of the three, with the third being super close! That makes sense for a team that was bowl eligible on October 14th, yeah?

But I also listed items that Mizzou needed to shoot for to get to a 10-win campaign! These weren’t benchmarks that were necessary to become eligible for a bowl game, they were more “bonus” items, or elevated play from specific units that could help win a one-score game and steal some extra wins to possibly get to 10. Let’s see if they came close on any of those:

The following goals were laid out in order to achieve a 10-win season

Goodyear Cotton Bowl - Missouri v Ohio State

4. If Missouri’s quarterback is a star (and doesn’t get injured)

I understand that “star” has a lot of different definitions but, hey, that’s the beauty of discussions about sports. The things that you can’t argue about Brady Cook:

  • Became the first 3,000+ yard passer since Drew Lock in 2018.
  • Threw for 400+ yards in game, the first time a Missouri quarterback has done that since 2020 and the third-highest single-game passing yardage since 2019.
  • Had five 300+ yard passing performances in a single season, the first time that’s happened since 2017, and only the third quarterback to do since 2000 (Drew Lock in ‘16 & ‘17, Blaine Gabbert in ‘09, Chase Daniel in ’07 and ‘08)
  • Threw for 3,000+ yards and ran for 400+ yards, the first time that’s happened since Chase Daniel did so in 2007.

I see Chase Daniel and Drew Lock listed above. Both of those quarterbacks were undoubtedly stars. 2023 Brady Cook broke a lot of quarterback record droughts and stayed healthy and it absolutely helped Mizzou break through to an 11-win season.

Verdict: Pass

Goodyear Cotton Bowl - Missouri v Ohio State Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

5. If the 2023 Missouri receiving corps is the 2013 Missouri receiving corps

As a reminder, here’s what Mizzou’s top five receivers did in 2013:

  • Dorial Green-Beckham: 99 targets, 59 recs, 883 yards, 12 TDs
  • Marcus Lucas: 94 targets, 58 recs, 692 yards, 3 TDs
  • L’Damian Washington: 90 targets, 50 recs, 893 yards, 10 TDs
  • Bud Sasser: 44 targets, 26 recs, 361 yards, 1 TD
  • Jimmie Hunt: 35 targets, 22 recs, 253 yards, 1 TD

And here’s what Mizzou’s top five receivers did in 2023*:

  • Luther Burden III: 122 targets, 86 recs, 1,212 yards, 9 TDs
  • Theo Wease, Jr.: 80 targets, 49 recs, 682 yards, 6 TDs
  • Mookie Cooper: 47 targets, 36 recs, 447 yards, 0 TDs
  • Mekhi Miller: 22 targets, 11 recs, 148 yards, 1 TDs
  • Marquis Johnson: 16 targets, 13 recs, 383 yards, 3 TDs
*Cody Schrader (27/22/191/0) and Brett Norfleet (22/18/197/3) were 4 & 5 in passing usage but we’re focusing on pure receivers here.

And here’s how the totals of the two groups of top five receivers shake out:

  • 2013 top five receivers: 362 targets, 215 recs, 3,082 yards, 27 touchdowns
  • 2023 top five receivers: 287 targets, 195 recs, 2,872 yards, 19 touchdowns

Pretty close! I’m not going to say the ‘23 group was as good or productive as ‘13 (that group was much deeper) but it was certainly one of the more talented receiving corps that we’ve seen in awhile.

Verdict: Fail

Goodyear Cotton Bowl - Missouri v Ohio State Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

6. If Luther Burden III makes the “Dom Leap”

Here’s how we define the “Dom Leap”, highlighting his performance in his two years here:

  • 2021 - 36 targets, 26 catches (72% catch rate), 173 yards, 0 TDs, 6.7 ypc, 4.8 ypt
  • 2022 - 75 targets, 56 catches (74% catch rate), 846 yards, 3 TDs, 15.1 ypc, 11.3 ypt

That’s +52% in targets, +54% in catches, +490% in yards, +300% in TDs. If we applied those specific increases to Luther Burden’s 2022 season, it looked like this:

  • 2022 - 74 targets, 45 catches (60% catch rate), 375 yards, 6 TDs, 8.3 ypc, 5.1 ypt
  • “Dom Leap”d - 112 targets, 69 catches (61% catch rate), 1,838 yards, 18 TDs, 26.6 ypc, 16.4 ypt

What we actually got out of Luther Burden was this:

  • 2023: 122 targets, 86 recs (70.5% catch rate), 1,212 yards, 9 TDs, 14.1 ypc, 9.9 ypt

So he exceeded the targets and catches while falling short on an admittedly insane production chart that, realistically, had no chance of being achieved by a second-year player (those numbers would exceed Danario Alexander’s 2009 year, arguably the best season a Missouri wide receiver has ever had).

BUT!

Numbers aside, there’s no doubt that Burden made “the leap” as he moved to the vacated slot receiver position and became Missouri’s number one receiving threat. Well done, LB3.

Verdict: Pass

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 Goodyear Cotton Bowl - Missouri vs Ohio State Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

7. If there are at least two edge rushers who can play above replacement level

Interior lineman Darius Robinson and long-time backup Johnny Walker, Jr. assumed the role of starting edge rushers for the 2023 season and were excellent. Of Tiger defenders who rushed the quarterback more than 85 times, Robinson (13.1%) and Walker (8.9%) had the best pressure rates on the team, with Robinson having one of the best pressure rates in the country. They also combine for 23 of the team’s 87 tackles for loss (26.4%!) and 13.5 of the team’s 38 sacks (35.5%). I’d say that’s way better than replacement level.

Verdict: Pass

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

8. If Harrison Mevis can bounce back

He missed an extra point for the first time ever and was a surprisingly mortal 50% on kicks of 40+ yards. But he only missed one field goal under 40 yards, had a bounce-back 90.8% accuracy on every ball he touched with his foot, and, well...

Yeah, Thiccer was undoubtedly back.

Verdict: Pass

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 11 Tennessee at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

9. If the penalty problems improve

We still had the “Connor Tollison goes on a snapping adventure” at least once per game. And we added the patented “Cam’Ron Johnson false starts for fun” as a weekly single episode.

But while Missouri still averaged roughly seven penalties per game they took their average penalty yardage from 63 yards per game in 2022 to 56 yards per game in 2023. Seven yards per game over 13 games makes a difference when you go 4-0 in one-score games!

Verdict: Pass

10. “Astral Assistance”

We saw two game-winning field goals. Chad Bailey was lost for the season about a third of the way through the season, Ennis Rakestraw battled through an injury all year, and Ty’Ron Hopper missed the last two games but, for the most part, Mizzou had pretty good injury luck. Tennessee had a surprising down year, Florida gave Mizzou fits but wasn’t very good, and South Carolina continued to be a paper tiger of a team.

But Georgia was still Georgia, LSU rode a Heisman-winner to way more wins than it should have had, and Alabama was in the Playoff once again. Oh, and heading into the last week of the season, the Top-15 teams from college football’s preseason poll played 100 games as favorites of 10 or more points and went 98-2 in those games.

There was some “Astral Assistance” in 2023 but not enough. Mizzou dropped a game to LSU and couldn’t beat Georgia on the road which locked them out of the SEC Championship game. And enough teams ahead of them kept winning games to keep them out of the (now expanding, a year too late!) 4-team Playoff.

But that’s ok! Mizzou still played in a New Year’s Six bowl and beat one of the most storied programs in college football history. Not too shabby in my book!

Verdict: Fail

Conclusion

Of these seven items necessary to get to a 10-win season Mizzou checked off five. That means, of the entire list, Mizzou achieved seven of the ten goals I laid out in a 11-2 season. That’s way better than the ‘21 or ‘22 squads managed to do and the win/loss record reflected that accordingly. Next year will be an interesting test, however: expectations are high, Mizzou will no longer be the overlooked pretender most teams thought they were this year, and the defense gets a hard reset at every position PLUS the coordinator. I look forward to doing this exercise again this fall and see how the Tigers can match up!