Better or worse? Previewing Mizzou’s offense in 2021
Editor’s note: SDS’ annual preview of every SEC offense continues with Mizzou. Coming Friday: South Carolina.
When Eli Drinkwitz took over as Mizzou’s head coach before the 2020 season, he had no idea what was looming. As he prepared for his first spring practices, a pandemic forced everything to shut down. That’s not ideal for a first-year head coach trying to get a read on his players and install his offensive system.
Now, though, he’s had a full spring with his squad. After a 5-5 campaign in 2020, hopes are high in Columbia that a bowl game is on the horizon in 2021.
So, will the Tigers be better or worse on offense in 2021? Let’s break down a number of categories that will provide the answer to that question this fall:
The transfer portal is becoming more prominent each season. The Tigers lost a key receiver in Jalen Knox earlier this month, but they also brought in some offensive talent.
Ohio State transfer WR Mookie Cooper could be a star in Drinkwitz’s system. Meanwhile, the Tigers return many of the key players from 2020. Spring practices likely helped them develop more chemistry.
And, along the offensive line, there’s plenty of stability. Michael Maietti, Case Cook, Hyrin White and others are back in Columbia for another season. Yes, RB Larry Rountree III is gone, and that’s a huge loss, but there is still plenty of talent on this roster.
Led by QB Connor Bazelak, there’s a chance Mizzou could finish in the top half of the SEC in most offensive categories this fall.
I think the Mizzou passing offense could take a huge step forward in 2021. It all starts at the quarterback position, as most things do in football. Connor Bazelak showed flashes of brilliance last year, but he didn’t put up big enough numbers.
He completed 67.3% of his passes for 2,366 yards, but he only had 7 touchdown passes to go with 6 interceptions. The touchdown number needs to go way up while the interception total stays the same (or goes down) this fall.
I believe Bazelak has the potential to develop into a first-round NFL Draft pick. Not in 2022, mind you, but perhaps as soon as 2023. He has the size, the poise and the leadership skills NFL scouts covet. Now, he just needs to put the ball in the end zone more.
Fortunately, he has a talented receiving corps to help him do just that. Keke Chism was one of the biggest surprises in the SEC last year, developing into Bazelak’s go-to guy. He led the team with 35 catches for 458 yards in 2020. He and Tauskie Dove (30 catches for 300 yards) form a nice tandem. Then, there’s Mookie Cooper, the aforementioned Ohio State transfer.
Cooper figures to be a Kadarius Toney type of player — just get him the ball in space and watch him go to work. He should get some touches in the running game, too, like Knox did last year.
And then there’s the 4-star freshman receiver out of East St. Louis — Dominic Lovett. He could contribute right away. Oh, and don’t sleep on Barrett Banister, an underrated player if there ever was one.
This receiving corps is really deep, so Bazelak will have plenty of options when it comes to spreading the ball around. Add in Drinkwitz’s funky but effective system and the Tigers could (and should) put up big numbers through the air in 2021.
They finished 6th in the SEC with 266.8 passing yards per game last year. I expect that to improve this time around.
Losing Rountree is going to hurt. A lot. There’s no way around that. Rountree was the biggest part of the Mizzou offense in 2020. He scored 14 of the Tigers’ 31 touchdowns last season and was an absolute beast in the red zone.
He was also a workhorse. He ran the ball 209 times last year, good for 2nd in the SEC. Only Alabama’s Najee Harris had more carries, and he played 3 more games than Rountree. Rountree’s 20.9 touches per contest led the league.
This year, Tyler Badie will take on more of the rushing workload. He only got 48 carries in 2020, but that figures to skyrocket this fall. He’ll need someone to step up and help him split the workload, though, and that guy could be Elijah Young.
Even with Badie’s versatility and ability to catch passes out of the backfield, this unit figures to take a step back this year. Rountree was a special player and will definitely be missed this fall in Columbia.
Harrison Mevis was incredible as a freshman last season, making 17 of his 20 field goals (including a game-winner against Arkansas) and all 28 of his extra points. That was about as impressive of a freshman season as a kicker can have.
He has a strong leg. If he can improve his accuracy a little bit, he has the potential to be one of the best kickers in the SEC. If he keeps on his current trajectory, he’ll be kicking on Sundays soon enough.
Meanwhile, in the return game, Mookie Cooper figures to play a big role as a punt and kick returner. He hasn’t recorded any statistics as a college player yet, but the Tigers see big potential in him. They’ll try to get him the ball in numerous ways, and that figures to include in the return game.
Mizzou didn’t have anyone consistently returning punts in 2020. If Cooper shows promise in that regard this fall, the job is his.
Other than Rountree, the Tigers bring back most of their major contributors from 2020. Meanwhile, Bazelak is a year older and wiser, and he and the other Tigers had a full spring working with Drinkwitz’s system.
Add in Cooper and an exciting freshman class and things are looking up for Mizzou. We’ll discuss the defensive problems in my next column, but the offense is looking good for 2021.
With a manageable nonconference schedule and some favorable SEC games, a 6-6 finish should be the least this squad can do. The offense will have to lead the way, certainly, but the ceiling for this year’s Tigers will be 9-3. Now, we’ll see if Drinkwitz, Bazelak and Co. can deliver.