The Opponent: Missouri Tigers
When: September 30, 2023
Where: FirstBank Stadium
Last year: 6-7 (3-5 SEC.) Missouri actually started the season 2-4, rallied to get bowl eligible, and then put in a poor performance in a loss to Wake Forest in the Gasparilla Bowl. Nothing really stood out about them; they ranked 86th in the country in scoring offense and 56th in scoring defense. The offense wasn’t good, the defense wasn’t particularly good either, and they managed to squeeze six wins out of that by beating the trio of Louisiana Tech, Abilene Christian, and New Mexico State, then winning three SEC games by a total of 18 points. If you want to spin it positively, four of the five SEC losses were by a touchdown or less.
The last time we saw these guys: Vanderbilt lost 17-14 on October 22, 2022, in one of the more frustrating losses of the season. Missouri got up 17-0 before halftime, then C.J. Taylor made the play of the year on defense and Gamarion Carter caught an 80-yard catch and run to pull within 17-14 — and then, with a chance to win (thanks to Missouri committing four turnovers), Vanderbilt just couldn’t close. I have never believed harder that “needing to learn how to win” is a thing than I did after that game, because I’m fully convinced that if that game had come after the Kentucky game, Vanderbilt would have pulled it out.
Series record: Missouri leads, 10-4-1. The series is 8-3 since Missouri joined the SEC.
Eliah Drinkwitz got hired off a single 12-1 season at Appalachian State; in three years at Missouri, he’s gone 17-19. More impressive than the overall record is that they’ve just... gone .500 in all three seasons, with a 5-5 record in 2020, 6-6 in 2021, and 6-6 in 2022, with bowl losses in the last two seasons. And they’ve gotten outscored overall in all three years, though last season (when Missouri was outscored by four points) was the closest they’ve come to being above water. If there’s hope to break out of this, Missouri’s 2022 recruiting class ranked 15th in the country. The 2023 class fell off to 34th, though.
It was ineffective last year, and now, the team’s top receiving target — Dominic Lovett — is gone, having transferred to Georgia. But Missouri at least has the potential for a good receiving corps with a pair of former five-star recruits. One, Luther Burden, caught 45 passes for 375 yards and six touchdowns last season as a true freshman and should only get better from here, though it felt like he was criminally underused last season. Theo Wease had a disappointing four years at Oklahoma, but he’ll have a chance to make good on his potential here; last season for the Sooners he caught 19 passes for 378 yards and four touchdowns. And the offensive line returns three starters, plus Armand Membou who moved into the starting lineup at right tackle late in the season.
That brings us to the question marks. Missouri returns its running back duo of Cody Schrader (170 carries, 745 yards, 9 TD) and Nathaniel Peat (100 carries, 438 yards, 2 TD) as both opted to use their additional year of eligibility. This duo was... fine, I guess, but doesn’t scare anyone. And then there’s the quarterback position: Brady Cook started last season and was somewhat effective (248-for-383, 2739 yards, 14 TD, 7 INT) — but that came with a lot of stat-padding against the likes of Louisiana Tech, Abilene Christian, and New Mexico State. Against Power 5 competition, he had 7 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. This is more of an open competition than you’d expect for a team with a returning starter, with Miami transfer Jake Garcia (68-for-115, 803 yards, 5 TD, 4 INT) and redshirt freshman Sam Horn having real chances to claim the job in fall camp.
I have lots of questions about Missouri’s offense, but this unit looks like it’s ready to roll with eight starters back. Playmaking edge rusher Isaiah McGuire isn’t a loss to sneeze at, but Nyles Gaddy, who started his college career at Tennessee before transferring to Jackson State, is an intriguing addition, and starting tackles Darius Robinson (5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks) and Kristian Williams (6 tackles for loss, 2 sacks) both return. Playmaking linebackers Ty’Ron Hopper (13.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks) and Chad Bailey (8.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks) are back as well.
And the defensive backfield looks very good on paper. Jaylon Carlies led the team in tackles and also had three interceptions; cornerbacks Kris Abrams-Draine and Ennis Rakestraw Jr. ranked second and third in the SEC in passes defensed, though they only had one interception between them. Florida transfer Tre’Vez Johnson should help replace the one departed starter back here (Martez Manuel.)
Harrison Mevis is one of the best kickers in the country, with ten career field goals of 50 yards or more (though he’ll occasionally shank a chip shot, as he did in missing a 26-yard potential game winner against Auburn.) Missouri will have a new punter this season and I’m assuming it’s going to be Aussie Riley Williams, who averaged 44.7 yards per punt at Towson last season. Luther Burden also handles punt returns and scored a touchdown on one last season.
- August 31 vs. South Dakota
- September 9 vs. Middle Tennessee
- September 16 vs. Kansas State
- September 23 vs. Memphis (in St. Louis, MO)
- September 30 at Vanderbilt
- October 7 vs. LSU
- October 14 at Kentucky
- October 21 vs. South Carolina
- November 4 at Georgia
- November 11 vs. Tennessee
- November 18 vs. Florida
- November 24 at Arkansas
(Note: I just want to point out that Missouri plays all four FBS teams from Tennessee this season, which is... very weird. They couldn’t have scheduled an FCS team from Tennessee, too?)
Like Kentucky, I’m just not sure what I think about Missouri. They’re in a spot where the defense has the potential to be very good, the offense has some pieces that I like... but, uh, do they have a quarterback? Can they run the ball?
If they get good quarterback play — a big if — then an 8-4 or 9-3 season is very much on the table. Whether that’s Brady Cook or one of the other options on the roster, Missouri has to find a quarterback. The bad news is that if they don’t, then the offense could really hold the team back because I don’t think the run game is good enough for them to lean on. The weirdness of the Eli Drinkwitz era at Missouri is that he’s an offensive guy but so far it’s been the inability to get consistent quarterback play that’s been holding them back — because the defense was already good enough to do better than 6-6 last season. Having a revolving door at the most important position on the field is a bold strategy, I guess.
As far as whether Vanderbilt can beat them? Well, they always look that way on paper, but most of the time it’s come out bust.