Missouri football: 10 burning questions as the Tigers head into the offseason
Missouri headed into the 2022 season on a high note but ended it by barely becoming bowl-eligible, with several losses by 1 score and an extremely low number of combined points scored.
Heading into the offseason, here are 10 questions to consider surrounding the program:
1. How will play-calling improve?
This issue was remedied for a short period of time but is 1 that has now reared its head once more. About 3 months ago, head coach Eli Drinkwitz said that he was willing to surrender play-calling duties and did do that late in the season.
From that point, quarterbacks coach Bush Hamdan called the plays for the Tigers’ final 3 regular-season games. Missouri scored a combined 98 points over that span, 24 of which came against Tennessee and 29 more coming against Arkansas. Unfortunately, Hamdan was scooped up by Boise State, where he now serves as the offensive coordinator. How things shake out in this area with his departure will be something of note.
2. How will the Tigers utilize Luther Burden?
There’s no question as to the level of versatility that Burden brings, proving to be an asset on special teams, with trick plays and as a traditional wide receiver. But the Tigers did not always utilize him to his maximum potential on an every-game basis in 2022. In the game-by-game stat line, it’s clear how much his production varied, and a lot of that boils down to play-calling.
Burden finished the season with 37 receptions for 325 yards and 5 touchdowns in 11 games, adding 95 yards and 3 touchdowns in the ground game.
3. Can Missouri maintain its highly underrated defense?
Mizzou’s defense consistently stayed ranked in the top 25. But hardly anyone talked about it because of the unimpressive win-loss record the Tigers had throughout the season and the way the problems on offense took center stage. The fact that the Tigers return 8 starters bodes well here, so it’s reasonable to believe they can keep themselves up toward the top in total defense once more in 2023.
4. Who will ascend to WR1?
This will be something to watch with the departure of Dominic Lovett, 1 of the SEC’s best wide receivers last season, to the transfer portal. Burden makes sense here, but as mentioned above the Tigers are going to have to use him the right way. It will also be curious to watch what Ole Miss transfer wideout Dannis Jackson and Oklahoma transfer receiver Theo Wease — both of whom were acquired by Missouri in the portal this offseason — accomplish in 2023.
5. What will the future look like for Eli Drinkwitz?
It seems to be of strong opinion that Drinkwitz is a good overall head coach. He just needs an adequate offensive coordinator under him, and that’s something that has been well reflected by the difference in Mizzou’s offensive performance when he is calling the plays vs. when someone else is. Considering just how close Missouri has looked like a team that can compete with the best of them in the flashes the Tigers have shown, how well the Tigers perform in 2023 under Drinkwitz will say a lot.
6. Can Brady Cook turn the corner?
Cook is the starting quarterback for now, and Drinkwitz has shown his backing for the signal-caller several times. His ceiling is a true dual-threat QB, but he’s got to get better as a passer where decision-making and ball placement are concerned. Cook had a solid stretch over his final 3 games, completing a combined 54 of 85 passes for 710 yards with 6 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He finished the season with a 65.2 completion percentage, passing for 2,505 yards with 12 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Cook added 547 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground.
7. Can Missouri turn the corner from these close losses?
The Tigers came up short by just 1 score in 4 of their 6 regular-season losses in 2022 — and 1 of those was against Georgia, which just won its 2nd consecutive national championship. There are a number of reasons why this happened, most of which are a combination of calling a better game, playing too conservatively, comeback efforts that fell short, offensive collapses, or 1 or some of those things.
8. How far is Missouri from becoming a true contender?
“So close, yet so far away” has been a theme too many times for this team. If Mizzou can clean things up offensively and play to a similar level on defense as last season, strides should be made. Mizzou showed the ability to compete with some stout competition in 2022, but it’s clear there are tweaks to make before the Tigers can do that on an every-game basis and come out on the right side of some of those close calls.
9. Who will be the Tigers’ biggest offensive standout?
Despite how lackluster the team was as a complete offensive unit last season, there were positive takeaways to be had. That often included the names Burden and Lovett. Of course, Lovett is now out of the fold and is now with Georgia. Burden looks to continue to grow coming off the strong showing he gave last season and could garner the most attention in 2023 on this side of the ball. But the performance of the transfers on offense will be something to keep an eye on.
10. Who will be the top player to emerge on defense?
The Tigers return several of last year’s most important pieces, despite the loss of starters Isaiah McGuire, DJ Coleman and Martez Manuel. In the midst of his redshirt freshman season, defensive back Daylan Carnell had a breakout year and should be expected to build on that as Mizzou’s defense appears poised to do the same overall. Carnell finished the season with 28 combined tackles (21 solo), 5 passes defended, 3 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries.