Here are my Pick-Six opinions in reaction to Missouri’s 34-12 scuttling of South Carolina on Saturday at Faurot Field …
1. This is great. Just great. Mizzou has a 7-1 record for the first time since Gary Pinkel’s 2013 Tigers did the same through the first eight games. And both the 2013 and 2023 MU teams went 3-1 in their first four SEC games.
I’ve been writing about Mizzou football since the late 1980s. Until now I’ve felt good about the state of Missouri football only three times.
– The first happy phase: Coach Larry Smith led Missouri to a 15-9 record and two consecutive bowl games in 1997 and 1998. Before that, MU staggered through 13 consecutive losing years, fired three head coaches, hadn’t played in a bowl game since the 1983 season, and lost 98 of 144 games with 41 victories and five ties. Smith’s brief revival of one of the nation’s worst college football programs was a pretty big deal at the time. But Smith couldn’t sustain the momentum.
– The second happy phase: From 2005 through 2011, Coach Pinkel raised the standards with seven consecutive winning winning seasons, seven straight appearances in bowl games, and an overall 63-29 record for a .684 winning percentage. It was a fine way to close out the Big 12 years. Pinkel’s 2006 Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the nation late in the season and the ‘07 squad reached as high as No. 3 in the land. The extended stretch of success included three seasons of 10+ wins, finishing the ‘06 season ranked fourth in the nation. This run setup Mizzou for an invitation to the SEC.
– The third happy phase: The back-to-back SEC East titles in 2013 and 2014. The Tigers were 23-5 (.821) over the two seasons including a 14-2 record in SEC games. Mizzou was ranked fifth in the final AP poll in 2013 and 14th in the AP at the close of the 2014 campaign.
Multiple generations of Missouri fans know all about disappointment and mediocrity and absorbing the hits to the morale that keep coming. That’s why this 2023 season is so special. A lot can happen between now and the end of the season, and this 7-1 start can’t be wasted. But through this stage of the season we’re experiencing another happy phase – it sure feels that way – and Missouri must make the most of it. Next up: an intriguing game at Georgia, after the bye week. Let the anticipate — and the dreaming — begin. And pause to appreciate Coach Eli Drinkwitz for raising the collective spirit of Mizzou fans everywhere. This is fun.
2. The last two wins over Kentucky and South Carolina have shown how dominant Mizzou can be when everything is clicking.
Since the Tigers trailed 14-0 at the end of the first quarter at Kentucky, here’s what they did in their next five quarters of football. I’m referring to the final three quarters at Kentucky and the first half vs. South Carolina:
– Mizzou outscored the two opponents 62-10 over the five quarters.
– Mizzou outgained Kentucky and South Carolina 610 yards to 222 during the five quarters.
– Mizzou averaged 6.6 yards per play over the five quarters while allowing only 3.2 yards per play.
– Number of touchdowns: Missouri 7, opponents 1.
“The great part about watching this team is they can beat you a number of different ways,” SEC Network analyst Chris Doering said after Mizzou’s win over SC. “The more multiple you are, the more dangerous a team you are as we go on. They’re not a one-trick pony.”
3. One of Mizzou’s best attributes? Having so many different ways to win games.
This is not a one-dimensional, predictable team. There’s the exciting deep-ball passing game. There’s the more methodical ball-control passing game that works when the offense is in a dialed-down mode. There’s the ability to lean on a physical, authoritative running game. There’s the defense that can stuff the run, get after quarterbacks and break up passes.
When one area of the team is struggling during a game, another component steps up to compensate. Does your defense want to do everything possible to suppress Luther Burden from banking yards and points on big gains? Fine. Quarterback Brady Cook can throw to wide receivers Theo Wease, Mookie Cooper, Marquis Johnson and Mekhi Miller or find tight end Brett Norfleet.
When something dramatic is needed, we’ve seen the special teams kick a winning, record-setting 61-yard field goal to beat Kansas State, and ambush Kentucky with a daring and devastating fake punt that turned the game completely around in Mizzou’s favor.
4. Missouri’s defense is rolling thunder. The havoc had a huge impact on Saturday’s win.
Since that bad first quarter at Lexington, here’s what Kentucky and South Carolina did against Mizzou’s defense over 21 possessions: one touchdown, four field goals, nine punts, four turnovers. Yep, one touchdown yielded over the last 21 possessions.
Against South Carolina, Mizzou cranked up the blitz and swarmed quarterback Spencer Rattler with pressure coming from every direction. According to the game report at Pro Football Focus, Rattler was blitzed by MU on 54.7 percent of his dropbacks. The harassed Rattler completed 10 of 20 passes for 77 yards and interception when blitzed – and had an NFL-style passer rating of 35.0 when blitzed. The storming prevented Rattler from finding big plays downfield; on pass attempts that traveled 20+ yards, he completed one of five with an interception.
Mizzou’s Harassment Index included six sacks, 15 hurries, eight tackles for losses and five breakups of attempted passes.
The Gamecocks converted only three of 14 third downs. On third downs, Rattler was sacked six times, ran the ball twice for minus 4 yards, and completed three of six passes for a grand total of 16 yards. Mizzou’s defense was responsible for Rattler’s lowest passer rating in a game this season.
5. Cody Schrader is having an outstanding season. I underestimated him. Many underrated him. I don’t think that’s happening much anymore.
The tenacious-and-quick running back piled up 159 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 26 carries against South Carolina. He scooted 10+ yards on seven of his rushing attempts, caused six missed tackles, and rolled up 86 yards after initial contact.
Schrader exceeded 100 yards rushing in three of his last five games. Among SEC running backs Schrader is first in rushing yards (807), rushing touchdowns (9) and second to Kentucky’s Ray Davis in rushing yards per game (100.8).
6. Missouri is improving and getting more national recognition. It’s well deserved.
Mizzou moved up to No. 16 in this week’s Coaches Top 25 poll. They were 20th a week ago.
According to the grading system at Pro Football Focus, the Tigers are rated 19th overall among 68 Power 5 Conference teams through eight weeks. That’s a significant improvement from last season’s overall ranking of No. 36.
The star of the show this season is the Mizzou offense. Pro Football Focus rates Missouri ninth overall among the 68 Power 5 Conference offenses, and in the SEC only LSU (2nd) and Georgia (8th) are rated higher than MU.
Here’s a statistic that no one would have predicted before the season … or even after the first two games of Mizzou’s season.
Here are the top five FBS quarterbacks in expected points added:
1. Jayden Daniels, LSU
2. Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma
3. BRADY COOK, Missouri
4. Caleb Williams, USC
5. J.J. McCarthy, Michigan.
MIZZOU COMMENTS FROM AROUND THE NATION
– SEC Network studio host Dari Nowkhah: “This is a legitimately good football team that the country needs to know about.”
– Saturday Down South columnist Matt Hayes wrote a piece extolling Mizzou as “college football’s biggest success story in 2023.”
– Seth Emerson of The Athletic ranked Mizzou No. 2 in his updated SEC “vibes” rankings, which focuses on how good each program and its fan base is feeling at the moment.
Wrote Emerson: “Propriety requires us to point out that Missouri doesn’t have a win over a currently ranked team and only has two wins away from home. Fairness requires us to point out the same two things apply to Georgia. Both teams also played at Vanderbilt; Missouri won 38-21, Georgia won 37-20. Hmmm. And while Georgia will have home-field advantage when the Tigers head to Athens in two weeks, Mizzou has the perk of a bye week leading into that game. Does this mean Georgia won’t be 15-to-18-point favorites? No. Does it mean that the game will be hugely interesting? Absolutely.”
– Paul Myerberg, USA Today: “Missouri is good. Not win-the-SEC good, obviously, but this is a very improved team that is playing the best football to date under coach Eli Drinkwitz. The Tigers are now 7-1 after dispatching South Carolina, taking a 24-3 lead at halftime and then sleepwalking through the second half to win 34-12. Missouri’s defense did a nice job with Spencer Rattler, limiting him to just 5.4 yards per attempt, while the offense drew 159 yards and two touchdowns from running back Cody Schrader and a team-leading 90 receiving yards from potential All-America pick Luther Burden. Up next are Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, as Missouri prepares for meaningful November football for the first time in several years.”
— Bill Connelly, ESPN: “If it works, keep doing it. Cody Schrader rushed 26 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns, and Missouri beat up South Carolina, 34-12, to move to 7-1 for the first time since 2013. Quarterback Brady Cook wasn’t asked to do as much as normal — he threw 24 times for 198 yards and rushed nine times for 62 — but Schrader, the former Division II All-American, was relentless, as was a Tigers pass rush that sacked the Gamecocks’ Spencer Rattler six times. Mizzou took a 24-0 lead in the second quarter and survived a stagnant second half to win comfortably. Now comes a bye week, followed by a massive Week 10 trip to Georgia for control of the SEC East. The last time the Tigers beat the Bulldogs? Also 2013. Just saying.”
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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