The Opponent: The Missouri Tigers. I don’t have any funny jokes about them, maybe somebody will in the comments.
Date: October 22, 2022
Where: Columbia, Missouri
Last year: 6-7 (3-5 SEC.) This didn’t seem like it was going particularly well early on, as Missouri lost at Boston College and allowed Tennessee to drop 62 on them, but then they rallied to win 3 of 4 to attain bowl eligibility. Then, they lost to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Series record: Missouri leads, 7-4-1.
The last time we saw these guys: Missouri came into Nashville last year and won, 37-28, but it wasn’t easy, with Vanderbilt actually pulling within two late in the fourth quarter before promptly giving up a 73-yard run to Mizzou running back Tyler Badie. In other words, well, typical Vanderbilt.
Eli Drinkwitz, whose long-term status Steven Godfrey openly questioned midway through the 2021 season, now owner of an 11-12 record in two years at Missouri. He also somehow signed the #15 recruiting class in the 247 Sports composite, which... how the hell did that happen? Anyway, Drinkwitz might be a problem if he sticks around at Missouri.
Drinkwitz’s first order of business entering 2022 is figuring out who his quarterback is. After 2020, it looked like this wasn’t going to be a question that Missouri have to deal with for a while with Connor Bazelak impressing as a redshirt freshman... and then, Bazelak regressed as a sophomore and ended up transferring out of the program. Sophomore Brady Cook, who started the bowl game against Army, will compete with redshirt freshman Tyler Macon, true freshman Sam Horn, and transfer Jack Abraham, who’s in his seventh year of college football, for the starting job. My educated guess is it will be Cook. Running back, too, is a question mark with Tyler Badie departed; one option is Stanford transfer Nathaniel Peat (79 carries, 404 yards, 3 TD), and four-star freshman Tavorus Jones will get a long look. One intriguing option is Cody Schrader, who transferred from Truman State, where he was Division II’s leading rusher last season.
Who the new quarterback will be throwing to is less of a question; senior Tauskie Dove led the team in receiving yards with 576, and Missouri also welcomes Luther Burden, the #1 wide receiver prospect in the country. And the offensive line returns four starters, with only starting center Michael Maietti gone off last year’s unit. That all helps, but all of this is dependent on finding a quarterback; if Missouri does that, this offense could be pretty good. If not, they’re going to struggle to score points.
Taking a whole-season view, Missouri’s defense wasn’t very good in 2021, surrendering 33.8 points per game; among SEC teams, only Vanderbilt’s was worse. But if you wanted to take an optimistic view, the defense did solidify late in the season after getting torched early; it wasn’t a good unit, by any stretch, but it did hold South Carolina to 250 yards and Florida to 360 yards, and even held Army to 306 yards in the bowl game (granted, with nearly a month to prepare for the triple.)
And the defense does get eight starters back. One-year starting linebacker Blaze Alldredge, the team’s leading tackler, is a significant loss, and there are few legitimate stars on this defense. But they do return Jaylon Carlies (four interceptions) and Kris Abrams-Draine (three interceptions, seven passes defensed) in the backfield, and Isaiah McGuire (14 tackles for loss, six sacks) at defensive end. Defensive back Martez Manuel does a bit of everything, and he’s back, too.
On this side of the ball, Drinkwitz tried to shore things up in the transfer portal. Joining the defense in 2022 are defensive lineman Jayden Jernigan (Oklahoma State), defensive lineman Tyrone Hopper (North Carolina), linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper (Florida), defensive lineman DJ Coleman (Jacksonville State), and safety Joseph Charleston (Clemson.) Maybe that’s enough for improvement?
The kicking game belongs to Harrison Mevis, who’s not only extremely reliable (69-of-69 on career extra points, 40-of-45 on career field goals), but also has a big leg, with six career field goals from beyond 50 yards. He’s one of the best in the country. On the other hand, Missouri is looking for a new punter with Grant McKinniss gone and no obvious replacement waiting in the wings.
Kris Abrams-Draine handled kick returns last year, but averaged 18.6 yards per return if you throw out a 100-yard return against Tennessee.
At the very least, Eli Drinkwitz has proven that he can recruit. Sure, a lot of the heavy lifting of Missouri’s 2022 recruiting class was done by an unusually strong in-state haul; but then, Missouri’s also a program that has frequently struggled to keep top talent home, particularly when (as with Luther Burden) programs like Georgia or Alabama swoop in.
That probably matters a lot for long-term upside than it does for 2022, when, sure, Burden is going to play a role (and probably a very big one) in the offense, but otherwise that class will pay more dividends for 2023 or 2024. This year feels like it’s still a program in transition. The ceiling could be reasonably high if the offense can find a quarterback and all the transfers can fill holes on the defense. But otherwise, this team feels pretty interchangeable with Florida and South Carolina in the middle of the SEC East pack. An 8-4 record won’t surprise me; neither will 4-8.