Mizzou football: 5 New Year’s Resolutions the Tigers need to make and keep
The Missouri Tigers had a dramatic and strange 2019 season. First, a loss at Wyoming in Week 1 dampened the team’s spirits.
However, they bounced back to win 5 consecutive games. Then, things fell apart, as they lost 5 straight. They needed a win at Arkansas in the final week to finish 6-6, but it was announced before the game that the NCAA had upheld the Tigers’ bowl ban.
After finishing 6-6, coach Barry Odom was fired. Eliah Drinkwitz of Appalachian State was hired to replace him after a tumultuous search.
Now, the Tigers enter 2020 with a new identity and a new coach. So, what should their New Year’s resolutions be? Here are 5 things the Mizzou program should focus on doing this new year:
1. Don’t cooperate with the NCAA
The Tigers cooperated with an NCAA investigation about a rogue tutor that took place a few years ago. And, unlike a school like Mississippi State, which had a very similar situation take place with players still on the football team, the Tigers were hit with a postseason ban.
It was a baffling decision, and one that was even more surprising after a long appeals process. It was almost universally decried as a ridiculous ruling from the NCAA, so moving forward, Mizzou absolutely should be done playing nice with the NCAA.
The program will have to deal with a postseason ban for the rest of this academic year and then scholarship reductions and recruiting limitations for a couple of years to come. So, if the NCAA comes poking around Columbia any time soon, the Tigers should remember 3 simple words — deny, deny, deny.
2. Be better prepared for road games
The Tigers went 1-4 away from Faurot Field in 2019, with the only win coming in the final week against Arkansas in Little Rock. Losing at Wyoming in Week 1 and then losing at Vanderbilt in Week 8 to a Commodores team that had just lost to a bad UNLV team was simply unacceptable.
The Tigers were unprepared for those games, and that was on the coaching staff. Those performances were perhaps the biggest reason Odom was fired. Drinkwitz will get some time to put his program in place, but he will need to have the Tigers better prepared for road games in 2020.
Mizzou will have winnable road games at South Carolina and at BYU (among others) next fall, so Drinkwitz will have a chance to separate his program from the Odom era in those matchups.
3. Find a new QB and stick with him
For the 3rd season in a row, the Tigers will have a different starting quarterback. In 2018, Drew Lock finished up his stellar career. In 2019, Kelly Bryant played well as a graduate transfer from Clemson. In 2020, another transfer — Shawn Robinson from TCU — will be in the mix to land the starting job.
This competition just got a bit thinner this spring, as freshman Connor Bazelak tore his ACL against Arkansas back in late-November and will almost certainly miss spring practice. Redshirt junior Taylor Powell will be in the mix, but this should be Robinson’s show coming out of the spring.
Get him comfortable with a new system (hiring former TCU assistant Curtis Luper to serve as offensive coordinator was a good start) and let him cook. He’ll have plenty of talent returning around him in RBs Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie and receivers like Jalen Knox, Kam Scott and Barrett Banister, so it’ll be exciting to see how he fares this spring.
4. Continue to prioritize St. Louis in recruiting
Four of the Tigers’ 10 signees during the Early Signing Period are from the St. Louis area, and a 5th commit — 3-star DL Kevon Billingsley — is from East St. Louis. It was a good sign for Drinkwitz that he managed to keep most of the Tigers’ 2020 commits from the area.
St. Louis is a talent-rich area, and many of the top recruits have gone elsewhere (guys like Ezekiel Elliott, Ronnie Perkins and others) in recent years.
Keeping some of those top guys at home will be crucial for the success of the Drinkwitz era as we move into the 2020s.
5. Go for the big plays again
I know the personnel was different for the Tigers in 2018 and 2019, and Kelly Bryant and Drew Lock are very different quarterbacks, but it does seem like the Mizzou offense played it a bit too safe in 2019. After recording 71 plays of 20 or more yards in 2018 (54 of them through the air), the Mizzou offense only produced 45 plays of 20+ yards in 2019 (34 through the air).
That dropped the Tigers from No. 28 in long scrimmage plays in 2018 to No. 113 in 2019. This goes along with point No. 3 on my list, but Drinkwitz (who will be calling plays in 2020) needs to trust his quarterback and receivers to connect down the field.
It doesn’t need to be the entire Mizzou offense, like it was at times under former OC Josh Heupel, but chunk plays need to be a bigger focus moving forward.