Missouri won a football game in the SEC, holding off the reliably beatable Vanderbilt Commodores for a 17-14 victory that impressed no one … except maybe the players’ parents. And I’m not so sure about that.
The Tigers were quite gracious, trying to give Vandy what the poor fellers needed to end a pitiful 24-game losing streak in the SEC. No thank you, said the Commodores. We will not accept your charity. OK, so it’s now 25 straight SEC losses for the Cornelius Vanderbilts. And not only that, Vandy has now lost 28 in a row to Power 5 opponents since sinking Ol’ Mizzou by a touchdown in October 2019.
Your Missouri Tigers are 3-4 with five games remaining on the docket. They have four games to go against SEC brethren: at South Carolina, Kentucky at home, at Tennessee, Arkansas at home. Mizzou can also cash in the guaranteed win coupon that came with the purchase price of booking a day of football against New Mexico State.
I want to clarify something I said at the top of the column: Missouri’s win over Vandy wasn’t impressive – that’s absolutely true – but let’s be fair to the MU defense. Missouri ranks 24th nationally in the Fremeau Efficiency Index ratings (DFEI) and was outstanding again on Saturday, limiting Vandy to 14 points despite the extra strain caused by the four turnovers committed by the Mizzou offense.
The Missouri offense is unwatchable. The Tigers are averaging only 22.3 points per game against FBS opponents, 17 points vs. winning FBS opponents, and 16.4 points against Power 5 teams. This is the worst Missouri offense since 2015, when the Tigers averaged 13.6 points per game overall, and 9.1 points in the SEC.
At least that team had true-freshman quarterback Drew Lock. He wasn’t ready to be the full-time starter but coach Gary Pinkel had to play the kid after the troubled veteran starter Maty Mauk was suspended for the remainder of the ‘15 season on Nov. 1. But we could see Lock’s obvious talent, and he gained valuable experience in a brutal set of circumstances. Lock grew from there and became a prolific, record-setting quarterback.
The Missouri passing game has regressed embarrassingly since the Lock days. This season Pro Football Focus has Missouri quarterback Brady Cook graded 97th overall nationally in passing, 116th in short passing (0-9 yards), 91st in intermediate passing (10-19 yards) and 90th in deep passing (20+ yards.)
There is a quarterback in the bullpen, four-star QB recruit Sam Horn. But we don’t know what to expect from Horn – or when to expect it. He’s affixed to the bench while head coach Eli Drinkwitz … contemplates? … marinates? … precipitates? … Well, I have no idea what Drinkwitz is doing.
The coach was hired in large part for his imaginative mind and offensive creativity. In 2021, his third season, he has assembled an offense that Pro Football Focus ranks 89th nationally overall and 94th in the passing game.
Saturday, Mizzou offense turned it over four times and scored no points in the second half at home against a Vanderbilt defense that (1) has yielded 38 touchdowns in eight games, which ranks No. 128 nationally among 131 teams; (2) was plundered for 39.4 points per game before coming into Missouri. That points-against average ranked 130th among the 131 defenses.
And Coach Drink had two weeks to prepare for a Vanderbilt defense that’s been exploited for 470 yards of total offense per game by opponents … including an average of 318 yards through the air, And this the best Mizzou could do? Are you kidding? The ineptitude is staggering.
I usually enjoy the challenge of trying to propose good-faith solutions, but Drinkwitz and his offense leave me in a state of surrender. There is no instant repair job that can make everything better. As I mentioned earlier in the column, the passing game is 94th in the nation according to PFF. The receivers are 92nd in the nation via PFF. The run-blocking receives poor grades from Football Outsiders. The pass-blocking grades are mediocre. The offensive line lacks competitiveness and is a liability. There is no impact from the tight end position, and that’s pretty sad considering how the MU program developed a quality lineage of outstanding tight ends over many years.
There is no success on offense, there is no identity on offense, and the coach has no answers except for the usual “we gotta work hard and get better” tripe. And this is a huge problem for a program led by a coach that was imported to CoMo because of his brainpower on the scoring side of football. This is also a huge problem for the coach.
Here’s the Drinkwitz trajectory in his three seasons, with all grades supplied by Pro Football Focus:
2020: 47th nationally on offense; 33rd in passing game.
2021: 56th nationally on offense; 82nd in passing.
2022: 89th nationally on offense; 94th in passing.
Good grief. With an offensive wizard running the show, these performances are supposed to be improving over time – not getting worse. Agreed? And Drinkwitz has yet to field a regular starting quarterback who wasn’t recruited by previous Mizzou head coach Barry Odom. How can that be? Lining up with Barry O’s quarterbacks is another bad look for the coach.
So what to do?
Drinkwitz can go the Drew Lock route and let Sam Horn drive this wobbly hoopty with the hope that he’ll learn enough to be ready to step into the 2023 season with valuable experience and a mature persona.
Drinkwitz can have someone else on his staff call plays but that would be an admission of failure and he won’t do that.
Or the Mizzou administration can begin the process that leads to a head-coaching change after the season. I’m not advocating that … at least not now. But depending on how the rest of this season goes, I reserve the right to change my mind.
This is Coach Drink’s third season and no one can honestly justify or rationalize the lack of progress under his leadership. The recruiting has been good, but that doesn’t mean much if the prized recruits don’t play or don’t develop. And in Year No. 3 his offense should be moving upward instead of descending lower in the rankings.
Coaches don’t need four or five years to raise a winning program. That old timetable is obsolete. It’s a radically different game now. Coaches are expected to win – sooner than later. And if you’re in the SEC, you can’t afford to keep sliding away, deeper into irrelevancy.
We see examples of this in the region:
– Josh Heupel took over a toxic spill of a program at Tennessee and has the Vols (7-0) ranked No. 3 in the nation in less than two full seasons on the job. Tennessee has the most exciting offense in college football, averaging a nation-best 50.1 points per game this season – which includes an average of 46 per contest against ranked teams, and 43.3 points per game in SEC action.
– At Arkansas, Sam Pittman faced a bigger and more strenuous rebuilding job than the one Drinkwitz took on at Missouri when both coaches were hired before the 2020 season. Pittman’s program has made bold strides. His success over the last two seasons includes a nine-win showing in 2021; a bowl-game victory to cap 2021; a 13-7 record since the start of ‘21; and a 6-5 mark vs. ranked opponents.
— Bret Bielema took over the chronic-loser program at Illinois, and in his second season he already has shaped the top-ranked defense in the country, has the 6-1 Illini bowl eligible and ranked 17th nationally, and is in position to win the Big Ten West.
— Under second-year coach Lance Leipold, Kansas opened this season with five straight wins and was ranked at No. 19 in the AP Poll for two consecutive weeks until an injury to starting QB Jaylon Daniels knocked the Jayhawks to the ground. Before Leipold arrived in Lawrence in 2021, KU’s football team had gone 26-115 from 2009 through 2020. But after an expected lost first season (2-10) at Kansas, Leipold is transforming the program.
None of this reflects well on Drinkwitz.
He still doesn’t have a quarterback or an offense or an identity. On the offensive side of the football, I still don’t know what MU stands for. He has a turnover-plagued team that struggles at home to survive Vanderbilt by a three-point margin. The coach still has time, but he’s under increasing pressure to make the most of it.
And I’m saying this after Missouri WON A GAME.
It’s getting tough out there. You know that a coach has problems when his team comes away with a victory in the annual homecoming game – and watching his team win this game was only slightly less miserable than watching his team lose.
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 show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.