It wasn’t pretty. Missouri football will take it, to be sure, but a four-point victory over a team that lost by 49 the week before isn’t very inspiring.
Here are seven thoughts from the Tigers’ win over Middle Tennessee State as we start to look ahead to this Saturday’s rematch against the Kansas State Wildcats, who beat MU in Manhattan, Kansas last season.
Decision to punt on fourth and 1
It was fourth and one from the Blue Raiders’ 44-yard line. It’s the fourth quarter. You have a chance to put Middle Tennessee down and out, plus kill more clock.
Drinkwitz opted to punt. Middle Tennessee State took the ensuing drive and went 84 yards in 11 plays and cut the lead to six.
What went into that decision?
“They’ve got to go 83 yards because then the ball went on the 17, which they did,” Drinkwitz said. “Their chances of scoring are a lot less than at the 50, so that’s the right play every time.”
It’s understandable football logic. Hindsight is always 20/20, and it worked out for MU in the end anyway. Still, that decision also tells me that MU is not confident in its offense to gain a yard.
If the priority is to prove the defense will get a stop, get the offense the ball back with solid field position and lead to a game-sealing score, then I get that. Furthermore, If you have that much confidence in your defense, then why not trust them to get a stop at the 44-yard line as much as you’d trust them to get a stop at the 16?
How many other college football coaches would go for it there? I’m willing to bet most of them would, especially now that pushing players forward has become legal.
Again, it worked in the end for Missouri. But in a sport where aggressiveness is forgiven more than it’s criticized, the best way to make sure someone can’t score is to take the opportunity away from them.
This Mizzou team promised more
I don’t want to downplay an opponent. Middle Tennessee State played well, put the Tigers in the danger zone and nearly stunned MU on its home field.
The Blue Raiders made my final prediction wildly incorrect. Props to my colleague Jarod Hamilton at PowerMizzou for having a much more accurate 20-17 prediction.
But these kinds of opponents are who Missouri needs to beat. Missouri cannot spend an entire offseason saying it’s ready to prove it belongs in the SEC and struggle to beat Middle Tennessee State the week after Alabama utterly demolished them.
MTSU had everything to gain. Missouri had everything to lose. One team played like they understood that idea.
I can excuse the South Dakota miscues. It was the first game and Missouri played two different quarterbacks in two halves. You always run the risk of messing with an offense’s rhythm when you swap quarterbacks.
But this game had moments where Missouri could have seized the game and never looked back. The Tigers just didn’t. Even worse, the Tigers seemingly made every play possible to put MTSU in a position to seize control of the game.
The penalties on the offensive line, the disastrous safety and a lackluster offense as a whole leave so much to be desired in the fourth year of Drinkwitz’s tenure.
That status quo can’t carry over into next week. Especially considering who’s coming to Columbia.
Mizzou is not ready for Kansas State
I wrote part of this in the second quarter. It’s all I needed to see to really know the truth.
The truth is that Missouri is not ready for Kansas State.
The Wildcats easily dispatched Southeast Missouri State and Troy. They didn’t trail in either of those games. Even when Troy put up 10 second-quarter points on Kansas State, the Wildcats responded by outscoring Troy 28-3 the rest of the way.
That’s how you take care of business.
It wasn’t just that Missouri struggled consistently against a C-USA team. It’s how the Tigers’ struggled.
The Blue Raiders’ pressure was consistently wreaking havoc against the Tigers. There were four sacks allowed by the MU offensive line. One of them led to a safety which gave MTSU a chance to take a fourth-quarter lead. Brady Cook didn’t have much time to throw. This offensive line was specifically targeted with transfer improvements during the offseason, and so far it’s struggled.
There wasn’t any consistency in the offensive play calling, either. Nathaniel Peat had 100 total yards and a touchdown. How did he only touch the ball nine times?
Football is not a game of perfection, but consistency. MU’s offense did not show any consistency. That’s just the offense.
The defense was fooled by the MTSU zone-read plays. Chunks of yardage led to sustained drives which led to touchdowns. The secondary struggled to tackle in open space, too. The Tigers can’t repeat that performance for even just a quarter against Kansas State.
The defense and the offensive line were the two parts of this team Drinkwitz praised this offseason aplenty. They haven’t lived up to that praise.
Through two games, and against two underwhelming opponents, Missouri hasn’t shown enough to prove it can win next week’s game. That’s what this season is all about, right?
How much change is needed?
One of the most telling moments after Saturday’s game was when Drinkwitz was very candid.
“I would say there’s a good probability there’s going to be some personnel changes,” Drinkwitz said. “We’re not going to sit back, we’re going to make changes. We’re not going to stick with the status quo. We’ve had two games to figure it out. If production is still not what it needs to be, we’re going to compete for the job.”
Last year, it took a whipping by Kansas State in Week 2. This year it was an eke past Middle Tennessee State.
The most change should come on the offensive line. Connor Tollison and Javon Foster should be safe; the two had struggled on Saturday but came off solid performances against South Dakota. Cam’Ron Johnson and Marcellus Johnson struggled against MTSU, as both committed penalties.
The most egregious was the line struggling to pick up a blitzing Sam Brumfield who sacked Cook which led the the safety.
It remains to be seen how much change occurs, but Drinkwitz has a week to make the right combinations ahead of arguably the most important game of Drinkwitz’s tenure.
“We’re not going to continue to give up four sacks and run the same five guys out there,” Drinkwitz said.
Luther Burden is a force of nature
It is a little amazing that it took Burden 15 games to go over the century mark as a receiver. Still, you cannot deny what will rightfully come to be.
Burden had 117 yards on eight receptions. The Tigers went to him early and often, as they should considering he’s arguably Missouri’s best player.
“Luther is Him,” Wease said. He stressed that “Him” is spelled with a capital H, plus an exclamation mark.
No arguments here.
Burden is a little different this season. Last year we saw that shifty playmaker who could bust through a tackle and dart down the sidelines. This year, Burden is fighting through more contact. He’s taking bigger hits.
There is no play where Burden doesn’t have a chance to score the football. The only time you know Burden isn’t dangerous is when referees blow the whistle to signal him down.
So far, he’s shown a mastery of the slot position. Burden was consistently beating defensive backs deep. He’s a weapon that Missouri needs to keep utilizing.
Schrader breaking the 4,000-yard mark
Cody Schrader eclipsed 4,000 career rushing yards Saturday.
“Jeez,” Peat said when he first of it Saturday evening.
In his six years of college football, split between Missouri and Truman State, Schrader has rushed the ball 690 times for 4,036 yards and 49 touchdowns.
That’s a pretty incredible feat for a running back. It’s easy to see Schrader’s career in two different lights, on when he was at Truman State and his present-day status at MU, but holistically his career is incredible to consider.
As a running back, Schrader’s open to much more contact than any other position. Maybe the tight ends would see a similar level of physicality, but running backs are asked to run, catch and block. There’s plenty of opportunity, but running backs also need to be durable.
Schrader has played six years of college football. This includes a season at Truman State where he rushed for 2,074 yards. At MU, his rugged style of running has come with durability.
He hasn’t missed any time at all. That’s a testament to how Schrader takes care of his body, as well as his football skills.
“Very proud of him,” Peat said. “He’s a hard worker. He runs the ball hard. He’s good in pass protection. He does it all.”
MU wasn’t the biggest SEC disappointment
Down in South Beach, things went awry.
Imagine having the money and coaching pedigree that includes a national championship, which brings plenty of expectations. Namely, the No. 23 overall ranking in the AP Poll.
That was Texas A&M. The Aggies lost to Miami on the road by 15 points.
ESPN’s Peter Burns brought up a great point. A&M has plenty of goodies. From the facilities to the recruiting, booster support and NIL, Jimbo Fisher has everything he needs to succeed.
His team just became Miami’s signature win two weeks into the season.
The rest of the SEC didn’t look too great, either. Alabama allowed Texas to claim that it’s back. Kentucky beat FCS Eastern Kentucky by 11 points. Drinkwitz’s team has a lot you can scrutinize it for, but they are 2-0. That’s a third of the way to bowl eligibility.
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