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Season Preview: Missouri

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith previews the 2022 Missouri Tigers

2022 SEC Season Preview: Missouri

MISSOURI TIGERS

Head Coach: Eli Drinkwitz – third season at Missouri; fourth season overall (23-13 overall, 8-10 SEC)

Offensive Coordinator: Drinkwitz

Defensive Coordinator: Blake Baker (first season)

2021 Recap: 6-7; lost to Army in Armed Forces Bowl

Despite a horrific defense, Missouri somehow managed to qualify for a bowl game with a pair of late-season home wins against South Carolina and Florida. The Tigers had no answers for big plays, allowing an SEC-high 35 plays of 30 yards or longer, prompting Eli Drinkwitz to move on from first-year coordinator Steve Wilks. Missouri was also awful in the red zone, allowing touchdowns on 76 percent of opponent possessions inside the 20-yard line. Sophomore Connor Bazelak started most of the season at quarterback, but Brady Cook led the Tigers in the Texas Bowl, and Bazelak surprisingly opted to transfer to Indiana after the season.

2022 Schedule

Sept. 1 – LOUISIANA TECH (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Sept. 10 – at Kansas State (Noon ET, ESPN2)

Sept. 17 – ABILENE CHRISTIAN (Noon ET)

Sept. 24 – at Auburn

Oct. 1 – GEORGIA

Oct. 8 – at Florida

Oct. 22 – VANDERBILT

Oct. 29 – at South Carolina

Nov. 5 – KENTUCKY

Nov. 12 – at Tennessee

Nov. 19 – NEW MEXICO STATE

Nov. 25 – ARKANSAS (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Under Center

After a successful season in 2020, Drinkwitz almost certainly thought he had his quarterback for the next two seasons in Bazelak. Why things fell apart is uncertain, but the page has now been turned to either Cook, sophomore Tyler Macon, or perhaps true freshman Sam Horn. Cook and Macon both can use their legs, and both saw time against the historically great Georgia defense last season.

Cook started the bowl game and completed nearly 80 percent of his passes in a loss to Army, a promising performance, but SEC defenses aren’t Army’s defense. I remain a Drinkwitz fan as an offensive schemer, so I trust him to get this figured out, but this is very much an unknown heading into a critical season. If the offense bogs down, Drinkwitz may be forced to turn to Horn sooner than he would like.

In The Trenches

Bazelak and running back Tyler Badie are both huge losses. Missouri will lean heavily on an experienced offensive line as it gets the quarterback and running back positions settled. No one is coming close to the 268 carries Badie had a year ago, as this looks like more of a job-share between Stanford transfer Nathaniel Peat and junior Elijah Young. Drinkwitz would prefer one back to emerge in the form of Badie or Darrynton Evans at Appalachian State in 2019, but that just not might be in the cards for the 2022 Tigers.

Missouri’s 2021 defensive stat sheet is pretty hilarious. The rushing yardage totals are eye-popping: 341 vs. Kentucky, 294 vs. Southeast Missouri State, 275 vs. Boston College, 458(!!) vs. Tennessee, and 283 vs. Texas A&M. Things got better in November, but the odd marriage of coordinator Steve Wilks and college football ended after one season with Wilks returning to the NFL. New coordinator Blake Baker is a Manny Diaz disciple and inherits a front seven with experience on the edge but questions marks in the middle. They’re not quite Michael Sam and Kony Ealy from a decade ago, but Isaiah McGuire and Trajan Jeffcoat are a strong pair of edge rushers.

On The Edge

If you’re old enough to remember when Missouri landed star recruit Dorial Green-Beckham back in 2012, the Tigers signing 5-star Luther Burden III over a number of superpowers brought back some memories. Burden enters a group of receivers that lost only Keke Chism among top contributors a year ago. Who distributes the ball is an obvious concern, but this is a pretty strong group on the outside with Burden, Tauskie Dove, Mookie Cooper, and promising sophomore Dominic Lovett.

Like the defensive line, the Tigers feel pretty good about half of their secondary. Safety Martez Manuel has All-SEC potential. Cornerback was a strength a year ago, but Akayleb and Allie Green IV both must be replaced. Missouri isn’t really sure what it has here, but the lack of elite passers in the early portion of the schedule allows for some time to grow.

Ranking The Units

1.   Receivers

2.  Offensive Line

3.   Defensive Backs

4.   Defensive Line

5.   Linebackers

6.   Quarterbacks

7.   Running Backs

Schedule Analysis

The Tigers again have a difficult non-conference road game, as they’ll face old friend Kansas State in Manhattan in Week 2. The rest of the non-conference slate should be a breeze. Auburn replaces Texas A&M as the rotating opponent, giving the Tigers a chance at a huge conference win before September ends. There are no back-to-back road games, and the off week falls right in the middle of the schedule. The Arkansas game is once again on Black Friday, and the Tigers host New Mexico State prior to the short week, while the Razorbacks have an always-emotional game against Ole Miss six days before.

Season Prediction

Drinkwitz can coach, and he’s proven that at two different schools. I was bullish on this team a year ago, but the defensive collapse disappointed me, as swing games against Kentucky and Boston College went against the Tigers in one score-losses, and four other opponents simply out-talented the Tigers.

This team is capable of going back to a bowl, but it’s hard to find many wins on the schedule. They key stretch comes late with a trip to South Carolina followed by a home game against Kentucky. If the Tigers get one of those game, they should at least enter the season finale on Black Friday against Arkansas with a chance at a fourth straight .500 season.  I am not calling for that, however, as the quarterback concerns will be too much to overcome. The Tigers will post their worst record since 2016 and leave Drinkwitz on a hot seat entering 2023.

Record: 4-8 (1-7 SEC)

Bowl: None

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.