Missouri football: 10 takeaways from the Tigers' 6-6 regular season
Despite how uncertain the picture looked heading down the final stretch of the season, Missouri became bowl-eligible when it completed the regular season with a 29-27 home win over Arkansas on Friday to finish 6-6.
It was a close matchup, as so many of the team’s games were this year, but the Tigers were able to hold on and prevent SEC standout running back Raheim Sanders from getting too hot, limiting him to 47 rushing yards in the victory.
Looking back at the regular season in review, 10 things particularly stand out:
1. Is this one of the best-worst teams in college football?
Missouri was an intriguing but frustrating team to watch in many senses this season, seemingly so close yet so far away in too many of its games. Reasoning for this was something of playing too conservatively, failed comeback efforts, its inability to finish games, questionable play-calling or some combination of all of the above. But at the end of the day, the Tigers fell short by just 1 score in 4 of their 6 losses.
The Tigers, who tied for 4th in the SEC East with a 3-5 record, were a combined 18 points from finishing the season with a 10-2 record instead of just achieving bowl eligibility in their final game of the season.
2. Lots to be proud of defensively
This defense was among the best in the nation for the better part of the season, as was well reflected by the number and statistical rankings, hanging in the top 20 for the majority of the year. That probably comes as a surprise to the casual fan, though, because what Mizzou accomplished on that side of the ball was frequently overshadowed by offensive struggles, and the defense at times faltered because it was left out on the field for too long.
Missouri finished the regular season ranked 28th in total defense nationally, giving up an average of 337.1 yards per game, 5.26 yards per play and 37 opposing touchdowns.
3. Much ado about play-calling
Some of the play-calling throughout the season was baffling and seemed to put Mizzou in disadvantageous situations, as was particularly showcased by the 40-12 offensive collapse of a loss to Kansas State. Up to that point, the Tigers had done well with some trick plays that they seemed to completely neglect against the Wildcats, and there were several points where it seemed highly touted freshman wide receiver Luther Burden just wasn’t being utilized as he should.
Head coach Eli Drinkwitz said roughly 1 month ago that he was open to giving up play-calling duties and did so before the end of the season, allowing quarterbacks coach Bush Hamdan to call the plays for the Tigers’ final 3 games. There was notable improvement, as the Tigers scored a combined 98 points over that time span, 24 of which came against Tennessee and 29 more that came against Arkansas.
Missouri will hope to see this trend continue moving forward into the bowl game and into next season.
4. Dominic Lovett deserves more recognition
Burden showed why he was worthy of the hype in multiple ways, but Lovett emerged as WR1 and made a case for himself in the front half of the season as one of the conference’s best pass-catchers, bouncing back from an inconsistent 2021. Through the first 4 games, Lovett was the 21st-ranked wide receiver in the nation and led the SEC in receiving yards as the recipient of many of the Mizzou offense’s chunk plays.
He ended the season with 56 catches for 846 yards, leading the Tigers in both areas. Those yards were 3rd in the SEC, behind only Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt and South Carolina’s Antwane Wells Jr.
Missouri will hope to keep Lovett in the fold, as reports have emerged that he intends to enter the transfer portal, though he is not officially in it yet.
5. Burden didn’t disappoint out of the gate
While the argument could certainly be made that Burden wasn’t utilized to his full potential this season (once again, hello play-calling issues), there’s no question that his versatility was on display from Game 1, where he scored his 1st touchdown. In just his 1st season at the collegiate level, Burden was an asset on trick plays, in the Wildcat role, on special teams and in the traditional wide receiver role.
Burden finished the season with 37 receptions for 325 yards and 5 touchdowns in 11 games, also adding 95 yards and 3 touchdowns in the ground game. How he continues to progress as a playmaker will be something to watch.
6. Among the worst in turnover margin
Turnover margin was one of the areas Missouri failed to impress in, ranking quite low in the statistical category at season’s end. The Tigers were tied for 90th in the FBS with multiple teams with 7 fumble recoveries, 10 opposing interceptions, 17 turnovers gained, 11 fumbles lost, 9 interceptions and 20 turnovers lost. That gave them an overall minus-3 turnover margin.
7. Brady Cook has been up and down, but he’s got backing
The SEC featured several younger quarterbacks without a wealth of experience this season, and Cook was one of them. There were times when he looked like a true dual threat and stayed mostly consistent in terms of making an impact on the ground, but at times Cook faltered as a passer with decision-making and ball placement. Drinkwitz had high praise for the way Cook rallied the team in the 23-10 win over South Carolina, though, and he was solid through the final 3 games, completing a combined 54-of-85 passes for 710 yards with 6 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.
Cook finished the season with a 65.2% completion percentage, passing for 2,505 yards with 12 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He added 547 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground.
8. Missouri was one of the nation’s worst in penalties
Some of the Tigers’ struggles at times were largely attributed to them simply hurting themselves. Penalties weren’t just a problem, they were such an issue that it found Mizzou ranked near the very bottom of the barrel in fewest penalties with a total of 92 penalties for 743 yards. That put the Tigers at No. 120 of 131 teams in the category.
The Tigers averaged 7.67 penalties per game.
9. By the skin of their teeth … again
This is Drinkwitz’s 3rd year with the program and, just like last season, the Tigers barely achieved bowl eligibility. They finished the 2021 season with an overall record of 6-6 and the same 3-5 conference record they came out with this time around. Mizzou also finished Drinkwitz’s debut year, the 2020 COVID-plagued season, with a .500 record at 5-5. This program has shown signs of turning the corner, but for now it has done just enough under Drinkwitz to find a spot in a bowl game in each year of his tenure.
10. A few tweaks away from something special?
It’s been a while since real excitement has surrounded the Tigers, and there’s nothing particularly attractive about ending the season at .500. But with just how close Missouri was in nearly all of its losses in 2022 — including to the team that is favored to win a 2nd consecutive national title — it’s hard not to look at all of this and see some real potential.
The reassignment of play-calling duties and the chance to continue developing some of the younger talent on the roster that has shown upside should bode well for the future, though it doesn’t happen overnight.