A good Sunday to you. I’ve picked these six opinions to discuss Missouri’s uninspired 23-19 victory over Middle Tennessee State on Saturday night at Faurot Field …
1. Missouri was a 21-point favorite in this game and had to hold off a MTSU program that’s 4-17 against winning FBS winning teams since 2019. A win is a win and all of that, and the Tigers are 2-0 to open the season. But this was a tedious performance that increased apprehension over Mizzou’s phlegmatic offense and the skill of head coach Eli Drinkwitz.
2. Drinkwitz was hired for his reputation as a sharp and creative offensive mind. But we’re seeing nothing like that, and this already is his fourth season at MU. In this new college-football era of the NIL and transfer portal, ambitious and resourceful coaches need little time to resurrect fallen programs. In one sense, Drinkwitz is a good recruiter. The 247 Sports site – which tracks and analyzes personnel – rates Mizzou at No. 24 nationally in a listing of the most talented rosters. On the other hand (A) the Tigers are 10th among the 14 SEC programs and (B) the Drinkwitz offense remains stuck in mediocrity.
3. Before the 2023 season there was a lot of talk about Missouri’s improved offense, and Drinkwitz was praised for hiring an offensive coordinator (Kirby Moore) and turning over play-calling responsibility to his new OC. But does this offense look any different to you? It’s the same old playbook. The same overly conservative mindset. The non-threatening downfield passing game. An offense that plays it safe and is scared to open up and truly go on the attack. This is why Drinkwitz installed Brady Cook as his quarterback instead of going with the strong arm and higher upside of Sam Horn. If you’re going to run a cautious and confined offense and lean on the defense to win games, then Cook is the QB to handle the assignment. And there was no competition between Cook and Horn; Drinkwitz had his mind made up months ago.
Yes, I know … it’s only two games, and perhaps Drinkwitz-Moore will come out with something fresh and more exciting when Kansas State comes to CoMo on Saturday. But what we’ve seen early in 2023 is a yawn-inducing replay of most of the mundane offense that trudged along in 2022. Missouri fans turned out 57,000 strong on Saturday and deserved better.
4. Let’s take a look at the year-by-year stagnation of the Missouri offense:
– In the Covid-truncated 2020 season, Drink’s first year, Missouri averaged 26.7 points per game against Power 5 opponents, scoring 3.1 touchdowns per game.
– In 2021, the coach’s second season, MU’s scoring average against Power 5 teams dropped to 23.9 points and 2.6 touchdowns per game.
– Last season was No. 3 for Drinkwitz and his Tigers crawled to an average of 19.2 points and 2.0 touchdowns in games against Power 5s.
5. By now the trendline should be going in the opposite direction, right? Not a decrease in scoring – but an increase in scoring. In the fourth season of this purported offensive einstein, MU should be flying – dare I say soaring – under Drinkwitz. Or maybe the coach is just a slick-talking dude who can overwhelm you with words – but not with points scored by his offense. On Saturday against MTSU, the Tigers ran the ball 46 times and attempted only 19 passes.
In Week One, Alabama smoked the same MTSU defense for 56 points – and this is hardly a vintage Bama offense. Missouri has played non-FBS South Dakota and non-P5 Middle Tennessee State so far. They averaged 29 points per game against the two teams – which is actually kinda sad … that’s it? That’s all?
After scoring only seven points in the second half vs. South Dakota, Ol’ Mizzou had only 16 points through the first three quarters against Middle Tennessee. They’ve produced 30 points in the last six quarters of offense against lower-level competition.
Drinkwitz lost his nerve repeatedly on Saturday. He had a 4th and 3 from around midfield with less than 11 minutes to go in the first quarter and opted to punt.
There was a 4th and 2 from his own 41 with 30 seconds to go in the first quarter … punt. There was a 4th and 1 from the opponent’s 44-yard line with Mizzou leading 23-10 with 10:27 remaining in the 4th quarter. Here’s a chance to put a pestering opponent away, for good. Nope. Let’s punt again!
Wait a minute. You’re an SEC head coach playing at home who’s afraid of a Conference USA team?
You have to let it rip, man. And if you don’t have the right quarterback to let it rip, then you better go find one. Either that, or you can continue to start a quarterback recruited by Barry Odom. And why would a big-time QB talent want any part of running such a humdrum, fear-of-mistakes offense?
6. Missouri’s offensive line was a significant problem in this game, but the quarterback doesn’t get a free pass. Brady Cook missed on two connectable deep balls early. He was too shaky, too often. He held onto the ball, resulting in sacks. He threw an interception that was dropped by MTSU. He didn’t have the usual verve or confidence as a runner. Late in the game he was tackled for a sack and fumbled the ball out of the end zone for a safety.
If Sam Horn did these things, Drinkwitz would be apoplectic, pointing fingers through the media, making snotty remarks to the media, and using Horn’s shakiness to justify Cook’s status as a starter. But if the more experienced Cook does it? Hey, nothing to see here, folks. That’s Eli’s guy. I don’t know if Cook can count on protection from his offensive line, but he’ll certainly be protected by the coach.
Next up, Kansas State. Missouri had best bring an offense to this conflict. And how about fixing the dreadful Missouri special teams?
Here are two views on Missouri’s win, written from beyond the state borders:
– Seth Emerson, The Athletic: “Not a resounding win over a team that got routed the week before at Alabama. Missouri didn’t take a two-score lead until the fourth quarter, then had to hold on. This was after a “meh” win over South Dakota. That seems to be the continual vibe with Mizzou these days: Meh.”
– Adam Spencer, Saturday Down South: “These were supposed to be the ‘easy” games.’ Instead, the Mizzou offense looked lackluster against both South Dakota and Middle Tennessee. As much as Drinkwitz likes to tout Cook’s leadership and toughness, eventually you have to throw the ball as a Power 5 quarterback. Too many of Luther Burden’s touches come at or behind the line of scrimmage. Opposing defenses pack the box to stymie the Tigers’ rushing attack. If Cook can’t develop a consistent downfield passing attack, it may be time to turn the reins over to someone else. Loyalty is fine when the wins are piling up, but the Tigers host No. 15 Kansas State next weekend.”
Thanks for reading …
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.
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For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.