My Pick Six opinions on Missouri’s 34-27 victory over Memphis at the dome in St. Louis …
1. Missouri plays entertaining football. Enjoyable football. Now that the offense has been opened up, it’s bubbling like champagne. The Tigers are fun to watch. It’s been a while.
We saw it last week in the walk-off win over Kansas State, and the excitement continued against Memphis. The coaches kept the good stuff in storage during the team’s opening two victories over South Dakota and Middle Tennessee, and let the offense flow in the last two games. We like it. The volume of explosive plays stands out.
Combining Week 3 and Week 4, Missouri averaged 32 points, 486 yards, 8.03 yards per play and 348.5 yards passing. K-State has a good team and Memphis is respectable, so the numbers against them are legit.
According to the college football metrics at Pro Football Focus, Mizzou’s offensive rating ranks 6th among Power 5 teams so far – behind Washington, USC, Miami (FL), Kansas and Michigan and just ahead of Oregon. Last season the Tigers were rated 45th offensively by PFF among Power 5 programs.
2. Here’s why that matters: last season Missouri and their fans were frustrated by the narrow losses. That trend appears to be changing. The Tigers had a chance to beat Auburn, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky but lost those four games by an average of 4.5 points. A sluggish offense was the main culprit because MU scored an average of only 17.5 points in those close-call defeats. This 2023 Mizzou offense makes mistakes and has some head-scratching lapses. Here’s an example: despite the many positives, the MU offense turned only 3 of 21 third-down plays into first downs in the two games vs. K-State and Memphis. But when you have an explosive-play element that can overcome the inevitable malfunctions by striking for significant gains – well, that’s how you turn close losses into close wins.
3. Brady Cook is for real. His increased arm strength is obvious. I’ll use a baseball analogy. Playing with a torn labrum last season, Cook was like the physically compromised pitcher who throws 87 mph because of the limitations. This season, with his right shoulder strength intact, Cook can fire 95 mph fastballs.
In 13 games as the starter last season, Cook never put up a 300-yard passing game – and now he’s done it two weeks in a row, slinging for 356 yards vs. Kansas State and 341 against Memphis. In those two winners, Cook completed 41 of 60 passes (68.3%) for 697 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
And Cook is making more impact with his arm. Last season, in games against winning FBS teams, Cook averaged 6.9 yards per passing attempt. In defeating K-State and Memphis – two winning FBS teams – Cook averaged 11.6 yards per passing attempt. And Memphis entered the game ranked No. 2 in FBS against the pass.
For the season, Cook ranks 11th nationally in expected points added as a passer, which puts him right behind Caleb Williams (USC) and Drake Maye (North Carolina) and just ahead of Travis Jordan (Florida State.)
Per Pro Football Focus, Last season Cook ranked 44th among 68 Power 5 quarterbacks with a deep-ball passer rating of 82.0. And his completion percentage (33.2) on pass attempts that traveled 20+ yards ranked 55th among the 68 quarterbacks.
So far in 2023, Cook’s 93.4 passer rating on deep throws is No. 10 nationally among Power 5 quarterbacks. And his 60 percent completion rate on throws that travel 20+ yards is tied for 4th among P-5 QBs.
4. Cook’s resilience is something to behold. He probably shouldn’t have been on the field – at least not as much – while competing with a bum shoulder last season. But in making all of those impact throws over the last two wins, he has played with a sprained knee that gave him some trouble in both games. Not only that, Cook was flexing and rotating his shoulder after taking some hits from Memphis. The dude has the pain-tolerance level of a Tkachuk brother. But this also raises a concern: can he hold up all season? It figures to be a challenge. But mental strength may be Cook’s No. 1 attribute.
“That kid is the toughest kid that I’ve ever met,” Missouri running back Cody Schrader told reporters when speaking of Cook late Saturday night. “I think that he keeps showing it week in and week out and he keeps fighting for the team.”
5. Luther Burden III: Can’t cover him. And that helps Cook, the other receivers, everyone. After flying through the Kansas State defense for seven catches,114 receiving yards and two touchdowns, Burden shredded Memphis for 10 catches and 177 yards. That’s an average of 145.5 yards receiving over the last two weeks.
Last season Burden finished with 375 receiving yards in 13 games. Through only four games this season, he’s already amassed 504 receiving yards to sprint by his freshman-season total. Goodness.
After averaging a modest 8.3 yards per catch in 2022, Burden is soaring with an average of 15.8 yards per grab this season.
And Burden’s impact is causing all sorts of mayhem for concerned defenses. His presence creates play-making opportunities for other MU receivers including the running backs. Cook has completed passes to eight receivers that aren’t named Luther Burden, and the eight have combined for 43 catches, 505 yards, 11.7 yards per catch, and five touchdowns. With Burden clearing space, the skies are open.
On passing attempts of 20+ yards, here’s the difference between Cook-to-Burden last season compared to the first four games of Cook-to-Burden this season
2022: 17 targets, only 1 reception, 35 yards, 0 touchdowns, 35 yards per completion.
2023: 6 targets, 3 receptions, 121 yards, 1 touchdown and 40.3 yards per completion.
A huge difference, yes?
5a. Burden isn’t a one-man show. Other receivers are cooking. Cook has also connected with Marquis Johnson, Mekkhi Miller, Mookie Cooper and Theo Wease for a combined six completions on attempts of 20+ yards. Those six catches have produced 215 yards – an average of 35.8 yards per bomb – and two touchdowns.
Dominic Lovett was Mizzou’s most prolific receiver on deep throws last season before transferring to Georgia. But so far, Missouri has done a good job of spreading the ball around to fill the void. The receiving depth is impressive, and that applies to other areas of the roster. Missouri is getting hit by injuries – including the Memphis game – but has been able to cover for the absences. That’s key.
I’ll repeat something I said earlier: Instead of losing games by a few points, Mizzou is getting enough big plays to win the kind of down-to-the-wire thrillers that mostly went the other way in 2022. But the Tigers must sustain this new and improved trend that makes them more dangerous.
6. Missouri, 4-0, can’t let up now and slip at Vanderbilt. The fellas know that, so there’s no reason to expect a letdown when the Tigers travel to Nashville for Saturday’s matchup. It’s a game MU should win. It’s a game MU has to win. And if they get it done, Mizzou can go into the Oct. 7 home game against LSU with a 5-0 record.
As for the 4-0 start, it’s the first by Mizzou since winning the first four in 2013. And by beating Memphis, Missouri joined Georgia and Kentucky as the only three remaining undefeated teams in the SEC.
High on the list of things to do: the MU defense must tighten up on third and fourth downs. The Tigers had difficulty in trying to shoo an effective Memphis off the field. And the Mizzou offense must convert more third downs to maintain possession and put their opponents away.
Congrats to coach Eli Drinkwitz and his squad for cracking the Coaches Top 25 poll Sunday. The Tigers are ranked 22nd. It’s been a few years, and Missouri has something going, so under the circumstances a loss at Vandy would be a terrible misstep. The SEC opener for Mizzou qualifies as a must-win challenge. Period.
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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