Let me state up front that I’m not a moral-victory spin doctor. You win or you lose. And when games are close, and you have the opportunity to win, then you better bag some wins. That especially applies to every college football team that needs oxygen as it tries to make the climb to higher ground.
This is the second full season for head coach Eli Drinkwitz. The Tigers did OK in a 2020 season reshaped by the pandemic, but the circumstances were strange and unusual and I don’t know how much we should read into the 5-5 record.
But since the start of the 2021 campaign, Missouri is 1-8 in road/neutral games, 0-5 vs. ranked teams, 2-9 vs. winning FBS opponents, 3-10 against Power 5 programs, and 3-8 in SEC matchups. I’m not turning on the coach or pushing for the firing of the coach, but at some point soon, the Tigers have to get moving … forward, that is.
MU had its chance over the past three games but couldn’t close the deal in three straight close losses: a ridiculous three-point overtime loss at Auburn, a a four-point loss in a spirited upset bid against No. 1 Georgia at home, and then a seven-point setback on the road in a winnable competition at Florida.
To get the program on you have to come out of that stretch with two wins … or certainly one victory. Wasting three opportunities and going 0-3 doesn’t cut it. And I know I’m saying something that most of you already have said.
When Coach Drink’s team comes off the bye week to return to the field on Oct. 22, the Tigers will have another three-game test that offers the possibility of making a positive turn to the season.
In order, Mizzou plays at home against Vanderbilt, ventures to South Carolina, and returns to Faurot Field for a clash with Kentucky. The Tigers should beat Vandy, are capable of winning at SC, and should be able to throw down with Kentucky and win a close encounter. I’m not predicting victories in all three games; heck no. But the Tigers have a shot at success in all three. One reason is the play of the MU defense, which is ranked 29th nationally by Football Outsiders in the combined SP+ and Fremeau Efficiency Index.
I’m not putting it all on one player, but Missouri needs more plays – winning plays – from the quarterback position. (Talk about stating the obvious.) Brady Cook is a helluva competitor, he grades well in his running ability, and the metrics at Pro Football Focus tell us he’s one of the better quarterbacks out there in passing performance when under pass-rush pressure.
So I didn’t come here to trash the guy. But if Missouri hopes to flip more close games from losses to wins, Cook will have to come through. He’s still an inexperienced starter. I think it’s fair to say that Cook is in this position because Drinkwitz failed to land a better quarterback when making multiple rushes into the transfer-portal market.
(And I don’t want to talk about four-star prospect Sam Horn; when the true freshman learns the playbook and is deemed ready to play, then let’s talk. Throwing him in there unprepared would be stupid. It would be beneficial to Horn him in to gradually gain experience … but when will that be possible?)
For now the emphasis is on Cook. He’s 1-5 as a starter against FBS opponents. He isn’t scoring well in some important categories, or in most metrics systems.
I’ll share the findings of a deep-dive research session, and it’s quite a list:
— Cook ranks 11th among 13 qualifying SEC quarterbacks in QBR, is 11th in total expected points added (EPA), is 12th in overall passing EPA, and is 12th in predicted points added (PPA) on passing downs.
— Among 129 qualifying FBS quarterbacks he’s 76th in QBR, 95th in EPA, 97th in EPA passing, and and 103rd in PPA on passing downs.
To give some brief perspective, Cook’s set of ratings are the worst by a Mizzou quarterback since a not-ready true freshman Drew Lock was forced into duty as a starter in 2015. after veteran Maty Mauk’s meltdown. And as recently as 2020, Missouri starting QB Connor Bazelak was ranked 5th among SEC starting QBs in the most meaningful metrics.
So Missouri, at least so far, is suffering through a significant decline in quarterback play. Lock shook off the brutal true-freshman season, improved each year, and was rated third among SEC quarterbacks in QBR in his senior season (2018). And he was second to Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa in EPA that year. But with all due respect, does anyone really believe that Cook will gradually improve to reach that level? Drew Lock clearly had a lot more talent.
Cook could become a more solid quarterback just by cutting down on terrible mistakes and doing more with the throws that should be working much better for him. We don’t know if he’s capable. But that’s the realistic goal.
A team won’t win games against credible opponents when their quarterback – in this case Brady Cook – is doing this:
* No touchdown passes and five interceptions in road/neutral games.
* One TD pass and 5 intercepts in games that end in losses.
* One TD throw and three picks in SEC play.
* Two TD passes and six interceptions against FBS opponents.
* One TD and four INTs against winning FBS teams.
* One TD and five INTs against Power 5 teams.
Let’s talk about the type of passes that Cook is being given to throw and complete.
So far this season Cook has completed 41 of 41 passing attempts on throws that are targeted to receivers behind the line of scrimmage. That’s nice and all. But why is Missouri throwing so many passes designed to be caught behind the line? Seems like the coach doesn’t trust his quarterback to sling the ball downfield.
But even on short passing attempts, Cook’s PFF rating ranks No. 119th among 129 qualifying quarterbacks. Not good, because as we all know, short passes are much easier to make. And Cook’s PFF rating on intermediate throws ranks 94th among 129 passers. Sigh.
All of this raises a natural question: Mizzou clearly is limited in the passing game in a way that makes the passing game a non-factor … or even a negative factor … with disturbing frequency. That’s a devastating flaw. This is 2022. And if you can’t make impact plays through the air, how can your offense take flight? Well, it can’t. Drinkwitz is supposed to be a hot-shot offensive mind. But this emperor has no quarterback. Not now, anyway.
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 or some of the stats used here were sourced from College Football Reference, CFB Stats, Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus, ESPN.com, or College Football Data (CFD.)