Here are my Pick-Six Opinions from Missouri’s disappointing 49-39 loss to LSU on a beautiful, festive day at Faurot Field…
1. Mizzou squandered a fast start, a 15-point lead, a marvelous home field advantage, and a grand opportunity to build a 5-0 season and enhance the No. 21 spot in last week’s AP Top 25 poll. With everything seemingly working in the home team’s favor including the passion of an excited crowd, the MU offense could have pumped out more points to finish off LSU off but didn’t. The MU defense could have come up with big, timely stops but couldn’t.
Missouri’s win probability peaked at 77.3 percent in the second quarter but the Tigers couldn’t close out a desperate LSU squad. It’s a shame, because a 6-0 start for Ol’ Mizzou was there for the snatching. While demoralizing, this defeat didn’t wreck Missouri’s season, but there are no phony pep talks from me today.
Nationally the Tigers were gaining notice as a rising team worth paying attention to. And they had a chance to reinforce the validity of the uplifting start to the 2023 season. But the positives couldn’t hold and didn’t last. Mizzou dropped out in the the new Top 25 poll released Sunday. They faded from the radar. That doesn’t mean the Tigers will remain out of sight, but to reemerge they must regroup and do it right away. Three of their next four games come against opponents that went into Week 6 with a top 25 ranking including Kentucky and Georgia.
2. Quarterback Brady Cook was on time, hit his targets, and was loaded with confidence early on. But he regressed as the game went on, and had only isolated moments of success. Cook’s terrible second-quarter interception rattled his confidence and changed the game. That was the turning point, and you could see the “before” and “after” picture.
— Before the pickoff, Cook completed 14 of 17 passes (82.3%) for 191 yards and a touchdown to lead Missouri on three impressive touchdown drives and leads of 22-7 and 22-10.
— But starting with that INT, Cook completed 16 of 30 passes (53.3%) for 204 yards with two interceptions, a damaging fumble and one TD.
— Before the first interception Cook averaged a superb 11.4 yards per passing attempt. After that first pick, he averaged only 6.8 YPA.
— The metrics confirmed the decline. In the first quarter Cook averaged .0319 points added per play. But in the fourth quarter he was minus 0.305 points per play. Cook’s performance cratered at the worst possible time. And the extreme downturn occurred against an LSU defense that’s ranked 112th nationally (FBS) in points allowed per game, 124th in yards yielded per game, and 127th in yards given up per play. Given that there are 133 FBS teams … yeah, that’s a bad defense.
3. Accordingly, the Missouri offense stalled and didn’t come close to matching its early-game excellence. Cook’s first interception began a sequence of 10 Mizzou offensive possessions until the game ended. After scoring touchdowns on their first three drives of the game, Missouri lost traction and scored on only three of its 10 final possessions.
In a high-scoring game — and we knew it would be — every point mattered. The impact of Missouri’s two touchdowns and a field goal on the last 10 drives was greatly reduced by all of the mistakes and misfires: two interceptions, two punts, two missed field goals, and a turnover on downs.
– And that doesn’t even account for Cook fumbling while getting sacked late in the game and MU trailing 32-29. Missouri recovered the fumble but the resulting 26-yard loss that put the offense in a 4th and 32 hole late in the game. And Drinkwitz added error-filled sequence by choosing to go for it on fourth down instead of punting and using all three timeouts to stop the clock and take a chance on forcing an LSU punt. Either way it’s a longshot … but to convert a 4th and 32? That’s more dreaming than hoping. When setting up to take a shot at a 4th and 32 miracle Cook and Missouri had a win probability of 5.9 percent. Cook completed a 4-yard pass on the ensuing fourth-down play … just a little short of what the Tigers needed there. No need to bring out the chains and measure.
– Cook’s first interception gave LSU a short field goal and a relatively easy touchdown. His second INT was a pick-six that put Mizzou away.
– Missouri scored 22 points on its first three drives – and produced only 17 points on the last 10.
– The Tigers had 219 yards on their first three drives, amassing 41.5 percent of their total 527 yards on the day in short time. But Mizzou had only 298 yards on the final 10 possessions.
– On the first three dazzling drives that generated 22 points, the Tigers averaged a spectacular 10.4 yards per play … then averaged only 5.9 yards per play on its final 10 possessions.
4. Coaching was a factor. Instead of falling apart and becoming mentally unglued after Missouri’s opening ambush, LSU’s defensive coaches made adjustments, ran stunts on the MU offensive line, cranked up the pass-rush heat on Cook, and came up with effective ways to slow down slot receiver Luther Burden III.
Burden had a good day overall, hauling in 11 catches for 149 yards. But 89 of Burden’s receiving yards were compiled in the first quarter, and he was limited to 60 yards receiving over the final three quarters. After Burden averaged 22.2 yards per catch in the first quarter, LSU controlled him for an average of 8.5 yards per reception over the final three quarters. And the Bengal Bayou Tigers kept Burden off the scoreboard all game.
If offensive coordinator Kirby Moore and head coach Eli Drinkwitz had plans to counter LSU’s anti-Burden strategy, I didn’t see it. The MU passing attack had to settle for too many short gains through the air.
For the day, Cook completed 19 of 24 passes (75%), on short throws including balls caught behind the line of scrimmage. But on passes that traveled 10+ yards, Cook was 11 of 20. That includes 3 of 8 on passes that were in the air for 20+ yards. After getting burned early, LSU’s porous defense improved and curbed Cook’s effectiveness. Instead of continuing to make strikes in the air, Mizzou had to settle for (mostly) small stuff. Reducing MU’s firepower and quick-score capability was a large victory within the victory for Coach Brian Kelly and LSU.
5. I said it several times in the days leading up to the game. And I said it again on my radio show Friday: Missouri will have to score 50 to beat LSU … or damn close to it. And yes, I sincerely believed it. LSU has a dynamic offense with one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation in Jayden Daniels. I’m not sure why the Mizzou defense had been heralded as the team’s strongest area by media folks – that’s not what I saw when the Tigers defense repeatedly failed to shut lesser opponents down in the latter parts of games, a failure that led to some uncomfortable comeback bids by the other side.
I genuinely feared Missouri would lose the battle against the LSU’s lethal offense, which is why I invested a small amount of recreational spending funds in LSU. After forcing punts on two of LSU’s first three possessions, the MU defense couldn’t do much of anything to contain Daniels. LSU scored on six of its next seven possessions – four touchdowns and two field goals – and the only failure was a missed field goal from short distance. LSU put the football in a box late in the game and wasn’t trying to score. By then it didn’t matter. Over the final three quarters LSU rolled up 442 yards and averaged 8.84 yards per play.
Daniels ripped into Mizzou’s secondary for 15 completions in 21 attempts for 259 yards and three touchdowns. He eluded and zipped by tacklers and for 130 yards rushing and a touchdown – averaging 8.7 yards per carry. And LSU running back Logan Diggs blasted MU for 134 yards and a touchdown and on 24 runs. The Mizzou defense didn’t force a turnover, bagged only two sacks and couldn’t get the LSU offense off the field and onto the bench with the game on the line.
Mizzou scored 39 points, which would be enough for a win most of the time — but no, not against LSU. In its previous game, LSU scored 49 at Ole Miss but Lane Kiffin’s triumphant offense put up 55. Unlike Mizzou, the Ole Miss coaches came up with ways to constantly unsettle a problem-plagued LSU defense and came back late to win. Missouri allowed the vulnerable LSU defense to gain strength and confidence and make stops.
This notion of the Missouri defense rising up to play hero defense to suppress Daniels? Oh, please. Even a late-hit tackle in the end zone on his scintillating 35-yard touchdown run to put LSU ahead — a blow that left Daniels in pain and caused him to miss the next series — couldn’t stop the SEC’s top quarterback.
Once the early commotion wore off, the MU defense became way too easy for LSU to exploit. And in a game of this nature, it was up to the Missouri offense to keep the points coming – just as Florida State and Ole Miss did – in averaging 50 points – in their defeats of LSU. The best Missouri could do was score 39 — and only seven in the fourth quarter when it was time to make a move,
6. The only way for Missouri to recover from the deadly Daniels dunking is to go into Lexington and win Saturday’s game. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has won seven of his last eight meetings against Mizzou and the only loss came in the weird, truncated Covid season of 2020.
If Mizzou can make a stand and win at Kentucky – at a venue that has been a notoriously bad stop for the Tigers – then Drinkwitz and team will prove something to the skeptics and doubters: the Saturday fade-out loss to LSU won’t ruin all of the goodness that developed during the 5-0 start. And a win would prove that Mizzou is strong enough to fight back instead of letting a bad loss keep them down. But No. 1 Georgia didn’t help matters by stomping Kentucky 51-13 on Saturday night in Athens. Stoops will have his fellers playing a rabid state of football by kickoff against Missouri.
On the plus side: Mizzou won’t have to deal with Jayden Daniels in Lexington. The Wildcats’ quarterback, Devin Leary, ranks 12th in passer rating among the 13 SEC quarterbacks that have averaged at least 15 passing attempts per game.
Mizzou didn’t have the edge at QB in the matchup with LSU, but Cook is the SEC’s second-rated quarterback behind Daniels. And Cook is having a much better season than Leary, who completed only 10 of 26 passes at Georgia. Leary has a 46 percent completion rate in his three SEC games. It’s up to Cook to get back on the mound and throw strikes. Mizzou has the offense to win this game. The opening line from the betting markets lists Kentucky as the favorite by 2 and 1/2 points.
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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