Skeptic’s guide to Mizzou’s 2022 football season
ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) projects Mizzou will win 6 games this fall (well, 5.6 to be exact, but we’ll round up).
That tracks with the sort of performances we’ve seen from the Tigers in 2 years under head coach Eli Drinkwitz. Mizzou earned bowl berths in 2020 and 2021, but had to pull out of its bowl 2 years ago and lost to Army this past bowl season.
There’s reason for optimism in Columbia this fall, as the Tigers bring in an elite recruiting class and have made some important additions via the NCAA transfer portal.
But what if nothing goes according to plan? Here’s a look at a few things that could go wrong for the Tigers in 2022 and keep them from earning a third consecutive bowl trip:
1. No one takes command of the QB position
I’m getting more concerned about the QB position with each passing week. Neither Brady Cook nor Tyler Macon separated themselves during spring practices. Freshman Sam Horn doesn’t arrive on campus until this summer. And, perhaps most concerning of all, after striking out on some big-name transfer quarterbacks (including JT Daniels, Jayden Daniels and Gerry Bohanon), the Tigers added former Southern Miss and Mississippi State QB Jack Abraham to the QB room recently.
Is Abraham supposed to compete for the starting job?
A guy who’s best year was in 2019, when he threw for 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions at Southern Miss?
Forgive me if I’m not thrilled with that prospect. Abraham has dealt with injuries the past 2 years, so perhaps he’s capable of delivering a much better season than 2019 now if he can stay healthy. But I certainly worry about what Abraham’s addition to the QB room says about the readiness of Macon and Cook to lead an SEC offense.
2. Luther Burden isn’t quite ready as a freshman
This item ties in heavily to the first, as receivers need quarterbacks who can actually, you know, get the ball into their hands. I’m worried Burden won’t get the targets he needs this fall in order to become a star.
I’m not expecting him to come out and light the world on fire right off the bat. Yes, he is certainly capable of putting up some big numbers against Louisiana Tech, Kansas State and Abilene Christian in the first 3 weeks.
But then SEC play starts, and the Tigers have a doozy of a first 3 games – at Auburn, vs. Georgia and at Florida – before an open date in Week 7. If the Mizzou QB situation isn’t settled by then, and if the quarterback who does ultimately win the job isn’t up to SEC standards, Burden could find himself going through a rough patch.
3. The run defense continues to struggle
Mizzou’s run defense was atrocious in 2021. Yes, things improved slightly as the year went on, but the Tigers sported the third-worst run defense among all 65 Power 5 schools (ahead of only Stanford and Kansas) and the No. 124 run defense among 130 FBS squads.
Mizzou allowed a whopping 227.9 rushing yards per game. Vanderbilt, the SEC’s second-worst run defense, allowed 193.1 yards per game on the ground.
The Tigers can’t afford another embarrassingly bad defensive start to the season. Mizzou absolutely has to win its first 3 games (vs. Louisiana Tech, at Kansas State, vs. Abilene Christian) if it is going to have any chance of qualifying for a bowl game this year.
Giving up big play after big play on the ground would be devastating against those teams.
There are plenty of new faces on the defense, and a new coordinator in Blake Baker, but the Tigers can’t afford any growing pains when it comes to stopping the run in 2022.
4. The play-calling doesn’t improve
Drinkwitz has been calling plays in the SEC for 2 years now. Hopefully, he’s paid attention to what works and what doesn’t.
The red-zone passing game has been almost non-existent the past 2 seasons. That hampered the Tigers at times, but RBs Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie were also there, fortunately, to pick up the scoring slack.
Another thing that drives me and many fans crazy is calling running plays that take too long to develop. SEC linebackers are the best of the best. Nearly every school has linebackers and safeties who can cover sideline-to-sideline with ease. Thus, some of the horizontal running plays that Drinkwitz used to great effect at Appalachian State aren’t working in the SEC.
It’s time to retire those plays. If the Tigers can’t fix their red-zone passing attack and set themselves up in 2nd-and-long situations after ill-fated wide receiver running plays, it’ll be tough to hang with some of the league’s top offenses.
5. The Tigers go 0-4 against South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee
The biggest measuring sticks for the Tigers are their non-Georgia, non-Vanderbilt SEC East foes. Last year, they went 2-2 against that group. Mizzou lost by a touchdown at Kentucky in Week 2 and got embarrassed by Tennessee at Faurot Field in Week 5.
Then, things turned around a bit in Weeks 11 and 12 and the Tigers downed South Carolina by a field goal and beat Florida in overtime.
The problem? The Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida games were all at Faurot Field. This year, the Tigers get Kentucky in Columbia, but play the Gators, Gamecocks and Vols on the road.
Going 0-4 against those teams would make it extremely difficult for Mizzou to reach 6 wins. And, at this point of Drinkwitz’s tenure in CoMo, a bowl berth is a must.