Hello. Here are my “Pick Six” opinions on Missouri’s 35-10 victory over South Dakota on Thursday evening in CoMo. As expected the Tigers handled a FCS division team, and these Power 5 vs. Subdivision matchups aren’t ideal for finding true meaning in player/team performances. But college football is back, and this makes me very happy.

This Pick Six will be all about the quarterbacks. That was the biggest story coming out of Game 1. It was a story that delivered instant offense for message boards and social media.

1. Brady Cook is the starting QB. Period. Many of us believed head coach Eli Drinkwitz when he told us this would be a true quarterback competition between incumbent Brady Cook and the presumptive prime challenger Sam Horn. Nah. This was just Eliah doing his usual fast-talking, double-talking car-salesman thing. Cook was his guy all along. Which is fine. The coach is paid – overpaid? – to make these decisions. And Cook has some advantages over Horn including leadership, experience, and a breakaway-run capability. Coaches love quarterbacks that all but sleep with the playbook – and Cook is a playbook scholar consumed by details. It says a lot when Cook’s teammates voted to make him a team captain for 2023.

2. Drinkwitz ran a misdirection play. If you’re the coach and you know what you want to do at quarterback – and will do at quarterback – why spend months feeding a misleading narrative to fans and media? Just tell us the truth. Put it out there for the public – Cook is the guy – and get on with your business. There was no reason to turn the QB1 process into a charade. Drinkwitz the prankster strikes again.

2a. OK, I feel an obligation to be fair here. I’ll give it a try. Maybe Drinkwitz wanted to frame this as a legitimate competition to see how the other quarterbacks – especially Sam Horn – would respond to the challenge. If that was Coach Drink’s motive, then at least he had a purpose. But Cook was MU’s quarterback last season, and the coach clearly adores him, and it would take an injury or some drastic and unforeseen development to change the inevitable reality: Cook is QB1 in the coach’s heart.

3. Horn didn’t receive a fair opportunity in Thursday’s exercise. That wouldn’t occur in a legitimate QB competition … and this isn’t a legitimate QB competition. With Cook playing the entire first half, Missouri was a helluva lot more ambitious on offense. Cook completed 17 of 21 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown (plus a rushing TD.) Mizzou led 28-3 at halftime and faced no threat from the scrappy visitors, and the comfortable 25-point margin set up a flat second half; some of the competitive edge had dulled.

Horn attempted only five passes, one that went for a touchdown on the wonderful Luther Burden’s catch-and-run. MU’s second-half objective was to drain the clock, and the Tigers ran the ball 17 times. Horn got plenty of reps to work on his hand-offs. South Dakota opened the second half with an extensive 17-play drive that devoured 8 minutes and 19 seconds, so Horn’s showcase was limited to only four second-half possessions.

Cook is a mature, fully acclimated junior. Horn is a redshirt freshman. He doesn’t have Cook’s wordly-wise ways and equity with teammates and coaches. Cook is mentally strong. And we know that he’s physically tough because he competed with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder last season – an injury that required offseason surgery.

“That guy has so much character, so much grit, so much determination,” Drinkwitz told the media late Thursday night. “He put his butt on the line for everybody in this organization, every fan, every single game last year with a torn shoulder. We asked him, hey, do you want to take (some down time), and he said, the doctors say I’m good, I can’t injure it any worse, so I’m fighting my butt off for this team. So I’ve got no question about his determination or him putting Mizzou first.”

The coach has made up his mind. I’m not sure how Horn can improve his stock if he isn’t given the benefit of time and patience and a real opportunity. Drink’s defenders would say something like this: what about all of those Mizzou practices? What about Drinkwitz and offensive coordinator Kirby Moore studying hours of digital video to make a full accounting of each quarterback?

Doesn’t that matter? My answer: yes, it does. But Horn can’t possibly catch up to Cook unless he’s given the chance to drive the car in games. And when I say drive the car, I’m talking about utilizing Horn’s high-velocity arm in a wide-open offense that can strike for big plays downfield. Or drive the car in a close game with the outcome on the line. That’s how you often find out about a quarterback’s strengths, intangibles, and weaknesses.

Entering a 28-3 game that’s already over (competitively) does nothing to enhance Horn’s development or give a coaching staff a more relevant read on his play. Horn will likely get another chance next week against Middle Tennessee.

When the SEC Network asked Drinkwitz to assess the play of his quarterbacks, the coach simplified it to a grade-school level by going to a scoreboard count: 28 points for Cook, 7 for Horn.  That’s it? Third grade math class?

Coach made no attempt whatsoever to put those numbers in context based on substantially different game situations. On Thursday Cook took 62.3 percent of the snaps and attempted 80.7 percent of the team’s passes.

In the postgame Drinkwitz made sure to let everyone know that he doesn’t care about outside opinions on the quarterback. Doesn’t pay attention to them. And after telling the media that he has no interest in their commentaries, Drink heaped more praise on his chosen quarterback. So much bravado, so many Cook tributes, all coming after a glorious triumph over the mighty and intimidating Coyotes from South Dakota.

Excessive? Absolutely. But Drinkwitz loves to talk and can’t resist drawing attention to himself. He’s a triple threat: coach-comedian-salesman with some clever telemarketer slickness mixed in. Y’all are too busy worrying about wins and program progress to fully appreciate this versatile showman. (Sarcasm alert.) If anyone still had questions about Drink’s obvious fondness for Cook, he offered this personal testimonial in the postgame performance. I think he was joking.

“He’s got a girlfriend,” the coach said. “Otherwise, I’d be trying to get him hooked up with one of my daughters when they turn 18. He’s a lovely young man.”

4. I keep thinking about this: former Mizzou head coach Barry Odom recruited Cook out of Chaminade Prep in St. Louis. That was a long time ago. Drinkwitz is in his fourth season as Odom’s replacement, and Drink still hasn’t come up with a quarterback who can dislodge Cook from the starting job. And MU hired Drinkwitz for his reputation as a rising-star offensive mind. In that context, the quarterback is the most important asset Drinkwitz can have. And the coach is still starting Barry Odom’s quarterback.

This is an important season for Drinkwitz. If Mizzou fails to break through the six-win ceiling for a third consecutive season, the coach could be in trouble. Then again, the MU administration evidently thinks he’s the next Kirby Smart and gave Drinkwitz a massive contract extension after his second straight 6-7 campaign.

There are two ways to look at this:

A) Cook is the more efficient, disciplined and reliable choice. You know what Cook can do at minimum: help lead a team to six wins. Given Missouri’s narrow losses to Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky and Florida last season, it’s hardly a stretch to believe that a healthier Cook can increase the standard six-win total by one or two this season. And Moore, the new offensive coordinator, should juice up this offense. If he doesn’t then what’s the point of bringing him here? Ride that good and nasty MU defense and come up with a few more game-changing plays through the air. That’s the formula. Oh, and this too: Harrison Mevis needs to pull himself together because Missouri can’t afford to miss many field goals this season. What the heck was that Thursday night?

B) By playing it safe with Cook, arguably Drinkwitz theoretically puts his job security at greater risk. If Drink’s favorite quarterback can’t lead the offense to more points and a higher win total, then all of the blame will fall on the head coach. Horn is more of a wild-card. He’s more unpredictable. That big arm could hit on more big plays – but also lead to a bunch of costly, untimely interceptions. If Drinkwitz is going to flunk in 2023, he’ll do it with the quarterback he trusts. Never mind that this raises questions about the coach’s aptitude in recruiting and developing quarterbacks. Remember when Sam Horn was a 4-Star recruit?

5. I’ve said a lot about Horn. Now let’s talk about Cook. He looked good in the opener. (I know. He looked good against South Dakota. Which isn’t like looking good against an SEC dragoon.) But I believe Cook deserves our respect. No one questions his competitiveness or toughness or the commitment to knowing every aspect of Missouri’s offense. He can gallop through and around defenses with a running talent that averaged 5.9 yards per rushing attempt and zig-zagged his way to 29 missed tackles last season. (Those stats from The Athletic.) If Drinkwitz is right in his unwavering backing of Cook, then we will praise the coach accordingly.

Mizzou QB legend Chase Daniel spent time in the team’s training camp this summer.

“When I was there, he was, without a doubt, ‘The Guy’ and it was impressive,” Daniel told the SEC Network. “He’s a great young man and his teammates follow his leadership.”

Going into the 2023 season, Cook’s deep-ball accuracy must improve or the MU passing game will have limited upside and capability. In 2022, Cook completed only 19 of 59 passes that traveled 20+ yards in the air. That 32.2 percent completion percentage ranked 22nd among the 28 Power 5 quarterbacks that attempted at least 50 deep throws.

If Cook’s right shoulder is healed and fully functional, he could expand the dimensions of a Mizzou offense that averaged a disappointing 19.2 points in their 10 games against SEC opponents plus Kansas State and Wake Forest. But there are no guarantees of that. Look at it this way: if Drinkwitz has to go to the bullpen, at least he’ll have Horn warming up. The coach would be smart to have Horn play a lot of ball against Middle Tennessee. It will help prepare him for a starting role if MU needs to bring in a hard-throwing reliever.

6. In the 35-10 warmup against South Dakota, Missouri’s 2023 offense looked a lot like the 2022 offense. Short passes. Screens. Checkdowns. The longest completion of the night was Horn’s perfect 31-yard strike to Mekhi Miller. But Horn and Miller couldn’t connect on another throw that caromed off the receiver for an interception. I assume that Drinkwitz kept it bland and excluded the more exciting material to keep the fun stuff out of view for upcoming opponents Kansas State and Memphis.

That’s it for now. I plan to do a Pick Six opinion column after each Mizzou football game this season.

Thanks for reading …

Have the best weekend!


Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

All stats used in this column were sourced from Sports Reference and Pro Football Focus.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.