BERNIE BITS: THE SUPER-SIZED EDITION!
Mizzou coach Eli Drinkwitz can recruit, he can talk, he can sell, he’s properly ambitious, and he’s highly capable of spinning the media. As Mizzou winds down its second season under new leadership, I have only one question: can Drink coach? I’m mostly talking about game days. As the season progressed, his handling of the quarterback situation was bizarre and made no sense.
Connor Bazelak was playing well below average before suffering a hamstring injury. And after that, especially late in the season, Bazelak played hurt and repeatedly malfunctioned. Coach stayed with him. Backup Brady Cook got some action, but as we saw in the Arkansas game, it was too late. From a competition standpoint, the game was over. Drinkwitz obviously had little if any faith in his backup quarterbacks, but that isn’t the primary point. Drink was willing to keep going with a hobbled and woefully ineffective quarterback, and that raises questions about his judgment.
Bazelak is a tough kid, and he made that sweet pass on the two-point conversion to beat Florida. We have him props then, and I’ll praise him for that again. Bazelak’s competitiveness is admirable, but winning comes first. Missouri missed way too many opportunities in the passing game because of an off-target Bazelak. Because of the injury, he lacked mobility and couldn’t step firmly into his throws. His limitations were extreme and obvious — apparently to everyone except the guy in charge.
In large part because of Coach Drink’s stubbornness, the Tigers failed to take full advantage of a historic, prolific fantastic season by halfback Tyler Badie. If Mizzou had an efficient passing game — with an element of explosiveness — to complement Badie, this offense would have ignited. The defensive emphasis on clamping down on Badie opened up large swaths of turf for downfield passing, but Mizzou couldn’t take advantage of it.
* In the college-football grading system done by the acclaimed Pro Football Focus, Bazelak was rated No. 33 in passing among 34 Power 5 conference quarterbacks that took at least 50 percent of the team’s dropbacks this season.
* Among the 41 Power 5 quarterbacks that attempted at least 40 passes of 20+ yards, Bazelak ranked 35th with a 32 percent completion percentage, and was graded 39th overall. Bazelak’s 15 completions of 20+ yards ranked 34th among 41 Power 5 quarterbacks.
* The Mizzou QB wasn’t so hot on intermediate throws, either. Among the 48 Power 5 quarterbacks that attempted at least 50 passes between 10 and 19 yards, Bazelak ranked 42nd in completion percentage (48.6), 44th in yards per attempt, and his overall grade came in at No. 47 among the 48.
Drinkwitz wasn’t confident in backups Cook or Tyler Macon. We get it. What I don’t get is why Drink remained so steadfast in his confidence in Bazelak. There was no basis for it. Based on the PFF statistics, Bazelak was rooted near the bottom of all Power 5 quarterbacks in passing performance. That isn’t an opinion; it’s 100% fact. Are we supposed to believe that Cook and Macon would have been worse? Here’s a thought: why not find out?
READING TIME, 10 MINUTES:
1) The Blues are 11-7-3 as they enter The Florida Men portion of their schedule. Two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Two vs. the Florida Panthers. After a 5-0 start to the campaign your beloved hockey team has wandered into inconsistency with a 6-7-3 record since Oct. 28. Halloween has passed. Thanksgiving is gone. Would the Blues kindly get everything straightened out by the Christmas break?
2) We could identify more than a few reasons for the Blues’ off-course meandering over the last 16 games, and injuries and Covid are a factor, but that applies to the entire NHL. A couple of weeks ago I covered their decrease in the percentage of shots on goal that turn into scores, and that trend continues. For now, I have a couple of things to offer.
3) The Blues are not being forceful enough in setting themselves for enough high-danger scoring chances. You can call them “Grade A” or whatever the heck you want, but we’re talking about shots from the sweet spots: the crease and the slot. They are coming up short in that battle. The Blues have only 46.7 percent of the high-danger shots at five-on-five in the 16 games Since Oct. 28. That percentage ranks 26th among the 32 NHL teams. And what about high-danger goals scored at five on five since Oct 28? The Blues rank 24th with a share of 42.3 percent, having been outscored 15-11 in the high-danger area.
4) Just to show you how far the Blues have slipped in the high-danger zones, I give you this: during their Stanley Cup season the Blues dominated opponents by controlling 55 percent of the high-danger shots at five on five. That was No. 2 overall. And when the Blues began to roll in early January of 2019, they had a 58 percent share of high-danger shots at five on five in their final 45 regular-season games; that ranked first in the league during that time. And the Blues scored 52.3% of the high-danger goals (five on five) for the season – and had a preposterous high-danger goal share of 60.8% over their final 45 games. That ranked No. 2 in the league.
5) I realize that those days are gone. But muscular, relentless play at five on five is how they won the Cup, and that makes the Craig Berube system go. Here’s the good news: the Blues are back to being one of the league’s better five on five teams so far this season, outsourcing foes 55-48. Last season they were outscored 109-102 at five on five. The key going forward? Work harder for more high-danger chances, and put more of those shots away. They currently rank 17th in high-danger chances and are 23rd in high-danger goals (at five on five.)
6) If the Blues can get their way to the net more often, they’ll likely clear up one of their worst problems right now: the tendency to stumble in close games. During their 6-7-3 stretch they’ve been outscored 12-7 at five on five and 23-13 at all strengths when the score is tied. When up by a goal, they’ve been outscored 8-4 at five on five. When the score is within one goal, the Blues have been outscored by three goals at five on five, and five goals at all strengths.
7) In Drink’s two seasons Mizzou is 0-7 vs. ranked teams, 1-8 vs. FBS winning teams, 2-7 in road/neutral games, 8-11 vs. Power 5 opponents and 8-10 in the SEC. But after an encouraging start in 2020, the Tigers have gone 3-7 in their last 10 conference games.
8) The NL Central is weakening again, and that undoubtedly pleases the Cardinal front office. Milwaukee won’t have outfielder Avisail Garcia or utility man Eduardo Escobar back in 2022. The Brewers didn’t make a qualifying offer to Garcia, and he signed with the Marlins. Escobar signed with the Mets. Escobar played his first game for Milwaukee on July 30 after being acquired from Arizona. From that point until the end of the regular season, Garcia and Escobar accounted for 25.7 percent percent of Milwaukee’s home runs and just under 20% of the RBI.
9) The Cardinals are doing the Matt Carpenter thing all over again, but at a much lower level in terms of absurdity. They’re insistent that Paul DeJong will go into next season as their starting shortstop, even though Edmundo Sosa (A) was superior defensively last season and (B) 18 percent better than DeJong offensively in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+).
10) Among the 27 players that have at least 500 plate appearances at shortstop since the start of the 2020 season, DeJong ranks last in batting average (.213) 22nd in onbase percentage (.296) and 22nd in slugging (.375.) He’s been 14 percent below average offensively with a 86 wRC+ that ranks 21st. DeJong is good defensively, but can he reverse an offensive trend that’s been headed downward since his 2017 rookie season? I don’t know, but I guess we’re going to find out. DeJong’s contract figures into this. The Cardinals signed him to a six-year, $26 million deal before the 2018 season. It takes him through 2023, and the team has options for 2024 and 2025. DeJong will be paid $6 million in 2022, and $9 million in 2023.
11) DeJong represents the unofficial club policy: if John Mozeliak is paying the man, the Cardinals will play the man. And performance is a factor – but how much of a factor? Legitimate question. I do think that DeJong has a chance to improve offensively. I have nothing against him. I like him, actually. But that’s irrelevant. And I’ll say this: if the Cardinals had a more complete offense, strengthened by an offseason addition or two, I’d be satisfied with DeJong hitting at the overall league-average level, with a higher slugging percentage. He’s part of a strong defense. But the bat needs recharging.
12) Drew Lock’s career has stalled out in Denver. The Mizzou alum, drafted 42nd overall by the Broncos in 2019, failed to beat out Teddy Bridgewater for the starting quarterback job going into this season. And Lock is now failing as Denver’s No. 2 quarterback. He’s appeared in three games, throwing two interceptions without a touchdown and with a poor average of 5.0 yards per attempt. Lock messed up in Sunday’s 28-13 win over the Chargers. With the Broncos leading 14-0, Lock jumped in after Bridgewater was knocked out of the game during the second quarter. After nearly losing a fumble on his first series, Lock threw a brutal interception that set up a Charger touchdown which cut Denver’s lead to 14-7.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was reluctant to allow Lock to attempt a pass, and the Broncos smartly turned to the run. Bridgewater eventually returned to the game, and the Broncos could finally exhale and finish off the Chargers.
Lock is in his third NFL season, and to date he’s thrown 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions — ugh — and has an ugly passer rating of 77.4. Lock has tossed more interceptions (17) than TD passes (16) since the start of last season. His record as a starter is 8-10. Broncos fans are yelling for Fangio to make Brett Rypien the team’s No. 2 quarterback and keep Lock on the bench.
13) I know this breaks your heart, sorry, but the Rams of LA have lost three in a row, with overhyped quarterback Matthew Stafford having turned the ball over six times in the three losses — with a pick-six interception in each of the three games. Meanwhile the pass-happy genius coach Sean McVay is so obsessed with justifying his desire to give up a ton of draft picks to Detroit for Stafford, the Rams have averaged only 71 yards rushing during the three straight losses. And that supposedly nasty Rams defense has been neutralized by the opponent’s strategy of having the quarterback take a shorter dropback and unloading quickly to beat the pass rush. And opponents are grinding down the Rams defense with lengthy ball-control drives. “We have guys who are way too good to be losing games like this,” self-promoting cornerback Jalen Ramsey told media after Sunday’s loss in Green Bay.
14) Here’s an excerpt of Keith Law’s analysis of the St. Louis signing of free-agent lefty starter Steven Matz, courtesy of The Athletic. “Although Matz’s health history makes a deal of that length a riskier one than it would be for the typical starter, he is exactly what the Cardinals needed. This feels like a pre-emptive strike before injuries or regression hit their rotation for 2022 … Matz has been an above-average starter three times in the past four seasons … four years and $44 million for Matz is probably optimistic, as he’s never pitched enough to qualify for the ERA title, and he’s been healthy and/or ineffective twice in the six seasons he’s spent in the majors. It’s not outrageous or even a bad deal for the Cardinals, but, coupled with the Eduardo Rodriguez contract, it signals that teams are valuing starting pitching very highly.”
15) Other than the money and other perks, why did Lincoln Riley bolt Oklahoma for USC? The prevalent theory is “he’s running away from the SEC,” in reference to the Sooners jumping into CFB’s top conference no later than the 2025 season. But I don’t think that’s it. Well, maybe there is one factor: did you see some of the calls that went against Oklahoma in their critical loss at Oklahoma State on Saturday? Oklahoma won’t get any breaks from the Big 12 conference or the league officials after defecting to the SEC. Everything will be going against the Sooners. What coach wants to put up with a lame-duck conference existence if there’s an attractive alternative opportunity waiting for him?
16) Here’s my No. 1 theory on Riley’s decision to break away from Norman: he wants a chance to build his own program, and restore USC to its former glory, and make the Trojans a monster team again. One that will resume its place as a program that has a glamorous, powerful brand – and will regularly compete for national titles. USC’s exile into incompetence and irrelevance must end. This should be among the five most dynamic programs in college football. Riley will have quite a legacy if he does down in history as the coach that saved USC football from the ignominy of being a laughingstock. Riley didn’t build a program at OU; Bob Stoops did that. Riley inherited the Stoops program when Stoops retired. Riley has maintained the standards at Oklahoma, and that’s fine, but he was given the keys to a sleek and powerful vehicle, and took the wheel of a program that already was elite and guaranteed to have major success. Lincoln Riley wants to become his own man, and build his own program and his own legacy. And if the USC platform provides Riley with a much deeper in-state recruiting pool and a smoother path to a national title – well, even better. As the OU coach Riley did well recruiting California, and with instant access to the talent in one of the three–best recruiting regions in the nation, he’ll thrive even more now. With Riley in place, USC will become a recruiting king again, and the Trojans will keep players in state instead of seeing them traipse off to the SEC and other power conferences. Oklahoma fans were critical of Riley this season, and USC fans will love him. He’ll have an extensive grace period as coach of the Trojans, and won’t have to be looking over his shoulder at a restless and unreasonable OU fan base. The USC job is a great one, and the new coach won’t have to worry about being fired — at least not for a long time. You coach Oklahoma in the SEC, where you’d enter as maybe the fourth-best team, and a couple of blah seasons will get you fired. I don’t blame any coach for making a pragmatic decision, and Riley did that when heading west.
17) Why did Brian Kelly rock the CFB planet by walking from Notre Dame to take the LSU job? I was really surprised by the news, as you were. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Kelly is 60 years old. He’s the winningest coach in Notre Dame history. He’s 54-9 after dramatically retooling the program after a bad (4-8) 2016 season. He took the Fighting Irish to a BCS Championship game and two appearances in the College Football Playoff. But you know what happened in those three big-stage showcases, right? Notre Dame was stomped by Alabama (twice) and Clemson by an average score of 34-10. The Irish couldn’t match Bama and Clemson’s superior talent and athleticism. And while his recruiting at Notre Dame has definitely moved to a Top 10 status, it’s still a challenge for ND to keep pace on a fast track. The coach of LSU football won’t have that problem. (Note: in an earlier version of this column, I mistakenly wrote that Kelly led Notre Dame to three appearances in the CFB Playoff. I apologize for the error.)
As for LSU, Kelly is just what the Tigers needed: an organized, structured, true CEO of a major program. The perfect 2019 season was spectacular for LSU, but there’s been too much disorder and dysfunction in Baton Rouge since the final seasons of the Les Miles regime.
18) Notre Dame isn’t like most football factories – the places that have an easier time getting academically-shaky recruits into school … and keeping them in school. And that’s the point here. Kelly is headed to a place where he will have access to any player that he wants, any player that he can get. The state of Louisiana is loaded with talent. Texas is next door, with high school players that attract Power 5 college coaches from every spot on the map. The entire south is packed with talent. If Kelly does an effective recruiting job, he’ll find the athletes that he needs to win a national championship, and then it’s up to him. Kelly did everything at Notre Dame except win a national title. The athleticism deficit made it more challenging. Kelly is at the stage of his career where he wants to go for it. And at LSU, they have one speed: go for it, all in, all of the time. The resources are endless. The last three coaches to lead LSU each won a national championship: Nick Saban, Les Miles and Ed Orgeron. And if you still don’t understand why Kelly was attracted to the LSU gig, there’s your answer.
19) But wait a minute: isn’t Kelly a Midwest dude who has never coached or lived in the South? How does an Irish-Catholic coach thrive in Cajun Country? First of all, Nick Saban wasn’t exactly a roadie for Lynyrd Skynyrd when he left the head-coach job at Michigan State to take over at LSU. Miles was an Ohio man, with college football roots at Michigan. And 26 percent of Louisiana residents identify themselves as Catholics; that’s the 11th highest percentage among the 50 states. There are 67 parishes in the Baton Rouge area. New Orleans, which has 131 Catholic churches, is one of the most revered Catholic cities in the U.S. And in Lafayette, 50 percent of the residents identify themselves as Catholics – and the city has 121 Catholic churches. I think Brian Kelly will be fine there. As long as he wins, though.
20) It was, however, very disappointing to see Kelly leave Notre Dame when the Irish have a real chance to make it to the CFB Playoff. And he’s trying to take Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive coordinators with him. It’s a cold world. And college football has never been crazier. I’m good with Kelly pursuing a job that he believes will lead to a national championship. But the way he left … not even telling the players first … not informing the administration … sneaking down to Baton Rouge to cut a quick deal. And worst of all, he left Notre Dame right away with the Irish in position to push into the CFP for the third time in four years. Who does that? Brian Kelly. It may be a sign of the times, but that doesn’t make it right.
21) Great profile of St. Louis attorney Bob Blitz in today’s New York Times. Blitz was the quarterback of the relocation-related lawsuit filed against the NFL that resulted in the $790 million settlement for St. Louis. Headline in the NYT: “He Helped St. Louis Land the Rams. He Squeezed the N.F.L. When They Left.” You should read this. Bob Blitz: tremendous St. Louisan.
22) Yeah, you really thought the Cardinals were gonna spend $325 million on Corey Seager? Sure you did. Seager will crank it offensively for the Texas Rangers, especially at home. But how much will he go to the post? In MLB’s last three full seasons, Seager has averaged 85 games and 333 plate appearances per year. He’s also lost defensive range at shortstop.
23) Earlier in the Bits, I talked about Paul DeJong’s below-average numbers offensively since the start of the 2020 season. Here’s an interesting little nugget: in terms of park-and-league adjusted runs created, Javy Baez has been 14 percent below league average offensively since the start of 2020 – exactly the same as DeJong. The difference? The Detroit Tigers just signed Baez to a six-year deal for $140 million. Gotta love baseball. The sky is falling! Owners are starving! Players are starving! The system is broken! Let’s shut the game down!
24) Here’s another review of the Matz signing by Kevin Goldstein at FanGraphs: “Matz immediately fills a rotation spot for a Cardinals team that will likely be in the thick of things in the NL Central in 2022. The lefty will slot somewhere in the middle of the St. Louis starter group, certainly following Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty, and if there’s anyone on the market who fits the definition of middle-rotation starter, it’s Matz. … as 2020 gets further away in our collective rear-view mirrors, we’ve learned how much data from that season is an outlier, and an extreme one at times, as was the case with him; he was nothing short of miserable in his nine appearances that season. And while he had his share of health issues in his earlier years, if you take his three most recent full seasons, he’s been the roughly the same player in terms of both consistent performance and availability.”
25) Matz has done his homework. He knew exactly what to say in his first Twitter message after signing with the Cardinals. He played all of the hits and didn’t miss a note.
“I’m fired up to join one of the most historic & respected franchises in all of baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals,” Matz wrote. “Throwing to Yadi, on a team with 5 Rawlings Sports Gold Glovers, & in front of one of the most passionate fan bases in pro sports. Is going to be incredible!!”
Looking forward to seeing the hometown lad, Logan Brown, make his debut for the Blues on Tuesday night … Yo! Save some of that NFL settlement money to fix the city’s streets and alleyways, OK? A sincere thank you in advance from a STL city resident who pays heavy personal property taxes … Why do the network announcers love to say the name “Cooper Kupp” so much? … RH reliever Luis Garcia is negotiating with the Padres, and if he departs the Cardinals it will be a hit to their bullpen … but there are other good relievers out there; too early to panic … I wish chefs would “reimagine” the green bean casserole for the Thanksgiving table. My gosh what a boring dish … I’m doing my radio show from my home office these days, and one of our cats is terrified by the sound of my booming voice behind the closed door. In other words, he’s like one of my listeners. He refuses to go anywhere near the third floor when I’m on the air — hey, pal, join the crowd … what will it be on Tuesday night when the CFP committee unveils its latest rankings? My guess is Georgia (1), Michigan (2), Alabama (3), Cincinnati (4). But it doesn’t matter because most of this will be settled on the field come Saturday … will defensive players receive serious consideration for the Heisman Trophy this year? I doubt it, because too many voters are set in their ways and automatically vote for so-called skill position players such as quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. But Alabama wrecker Will Anderson, Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis and the exceptional Michigan pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson are having great seasons and are worthy of strong consideration. I’m a Heisman voter but won’t make up my mind until after the conference championships … some of the new TV commercial pitches for mobile phones are unsettling. Smart phones control us. We’re zombies … random stat: over the first three months of the 2021 season, Cards closer Alex Reyes had a ninth-inning ERA of 0.34, a strikeout rate of 32%, and allowed a .202 slugging percentage. But over the final three months Reyes had a 6.38 ninth-inning ERA with a 21% strikeout rate and allowed a .427 slug. And this was the guy who was chosen to defend the castle in the ninth inning of the NL wild-card game? … Spoiler Alert! About the latest episode of Succession: It’s Kendall’s birthday party and he can cry if he wants to. Worst. Birthday. Party. Ever.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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