Better or worse? Previewing Mizzou’s offense in 2019
Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series previewing every SEC team’s offense, starting with the East Division. Coming Friday: South Carolina.
The Missouri Tigers have been a team on the rise the past two seasons. After rough starts to the 2017 and 2018 campaigns, the Tigers turned things around and made it to bowl games (losing both).
This year, they have some question marks, but the offense should still be one of the best in the SEC. Gone is Drew Lock, but in his place is Clemson graduate transfer Kelly Bryant, who will be a fun fit in Derek Dooley’s offensive system.
However, will the Tigers be better or worse on that side of the ball in 2019? That’s a question that will be asked all summer.
Here’s a breakdown of each aspect of the Tiger offense and whether it will be better or worse than it was last year:
Passing offense: Worse
The Tigers had the No. 3 passing offense in the SEC last year, putting up 279.4 yards per game under star QB Drew Lock. That was behind only Ole Miss (346.4 yards per game) and Alabama (323.6). Lock climbed up the SEC career passing leaderboards, too, finishing his career second to only Aaron Murray in passing yards (13,166 to 12,193) and third to Murray and Danny Wuerffel in passing touchdowns, tossing 99 during his outstanding tenure at Missouri.
It would be understandable if the Tigers had trouble replacing him, but they did about as good as they could have possibly hoped for, landing Clemson graduate transfer Kelly Bryant. Bryant isn’t the pure passer Lock was, but he’s no slouch, either. During his last full season as Clemson’s starter (2017), he threw for 2,802 yards, 13 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
It’ll be interesting to see how Dooley uses Bryant in the passing game, especially since Bryant adds a rushing threat, too (see below). However, the bigger hit to the Tigers’ passing attack is the loss of Emanuel Hall.
Mizzou no longer has a guy who can take the top off a defense on a consistent basis, unless rising sophomore Jalen Knox evolves into that role (which is certainly possible). Albert Okwuegbunam could end up being the best tight end in the country, and Johnathon Johnson provides a great slot presence, but the Tigers need a deep threat to emerge.
Kam Scott also provides an interesting target for Bryant if he can take a step forward in Year 2 with the Tigers.
Rushing offense: Better
Damarea Crockett is off to the NFL, but Larry Rountree III is ready to take on more work in what should be his breakout season. After rushing for 1,216 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018 (following a 703-yard, 6-touchdown performance as a freshman in 2017), he should become a household name across the SEC this fall.
Meanwhile, Tyler Badie is ready to step into a bigger role to complement Rountree. Badie had 12 catches for 130 yards out of the backfield as a true freshman last year, in addition to 437 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. All of those numbers should improve with Bryant running the offense.
Speaking of which, Bryant ran for 665 yards and 11 touchdowns while leading Clemson to the College Football Playoff semifinal in 2017, so he’s a bit better in that regard than Lock was. That opens up some new play calls for Dooley, who should have fun working the quarterback into the running game more often.
It won’t be easy to replace Kevin Pendleton and Paul Adams along the offensive line, but having three players returning to the veteran unit ensures that there will be at least some consistency up front, which is a big thing in the SEC.
Special teams: Better
The special teams units are pretty much the same as last year, other than punter Corey Fatony, who graduated. Tucker McCann will handle kicking duties again, and guys like Tyler Badie, Richaud Floyd and Johnathon Johnson will return kicks and punts.
If Floyd stays healthy, his return to the kickoff and punt-return game will add some explosiveness that was lacking at times last season. He returned 2 punts for touchdowns in 2017 and can be dangerous once again this fall if he’s at full strength.
Look, this is still going to be a great offense for Dooley and the Tigers, but it’s unrealistic to expect Bryant to step in and run things as well as Lock did last year. That said, it’ll be close to as good as it was in 2018, but add in the loss of Hall, Crockett and the offensive linemen, and it’ll take a few weeks for this unit to jell.
Lock was a generational talent, and while Bryant is an established winner, it’s tough to accomplish in one year what Lock built up to over four years in Columbia. The chemistry he had with Hall made the Tigers dangerous on every snap they shared the field, so we’ll have to see who Bryant develops a bond with during the 2019 season.
No matter what happens, though, this team should still score plenty of points, which will keep them in games all year. There are some question marks on defense, but with so many key pieces returning on offense, the Tigers are going to be a team that not many other squads want to face in 2019.