Bio Blast: Missouri Tigers

Adam Luckett11/01/22


Article written by:On3 imageAdam Luckett


On3 image
(Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)

Kentucky is headed on the road for the final time this season as the Wildcats will head west to the Show Me State. UK is looking to get back in the win column after losing three SEC games in their last four outings.

Awaiting the Cats this weekend will be a Missouri squad that has turned its season around after a slow start. Behind a stingy defense, the Tigers are only 1-3 in one-score games this year but have been playing some good football for a month now behind a stingy defense.

Saturday is a swing game in the SEC East as both Missouri and Kentucky are jockeying for bowl slot positioning. Let’s start digging into Eliah Drinkwitz’s third team in CoMo.

Defensive resurgence with a bunch of new faces

After defensive coordinator Ryan Walters left for Illinois, Drinkwitz went to the NFL and hired former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks to run Missouri’s defense in 2021. Things did not go well.

The Tigers finished the season ranked No. 94 in defensive success rate (44.6%), No. 113 in yards per play (6.4), and allowed 33.8 points per game. Mizzou had one of the worst defenses in the Power Five. Wilks decided to head back to the NFL after the season, and former Miami defensive coordinator Blake Baker became Drinkwitz’s fourth defensive coordinator in four seasons as a head coach.

Baker will likely be the first to return for a second year under Drinkwitz. The Mizzou defense might be the most improved unit in college football this season.

The Tigers enter Week 10 ranking No. 11 in defensive success rate (33.5%), No. 24 in yards per play (4.9), and are allowing 21.5 points per game. Missouri returned eight starters, but some key transfer additions are playing a big role.

Ty’Ron Hopper (Florida) is playing at an All-SEC level at linebacker with 48 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and four pass breakups. The former top-100 recruit is the most productive player on the defense. Jayden Jernigan (Oklahoma State) and Kristian Williams (Oregon) have provided quality interior depth in the trenches. Joseph Charleston (Clemson) and Dreyden Norwood (Texas A&M) have become quality contributors in the secondary.

Meanwhile, there has also been development done with returning players. Isaiah McGuire has turned into one of the most dominant defensive line players in the SEC. At cornerback, both Kris Abrams-Draine and Ennis Rakestraw Jr. could start for a lot of teams. The Tigers have NFL talent at all three levels and it’s leading to outstanding play.

Under Baker, the Tigers will get aggressive and are not afraid to play man coverage. Mizzou leads the SEC in tackles for loss per game (7.1) but also doesn’t give up a lot of big plays. Missouri has a legitimate top-25 defense and has been playing at a top-15 level for the last month.

Offensive ineptitude

The defense really needed to make a huge jump in 2022 because Eliah Drinkwitz currently has his worst offense yet this season. After a strong career as an offensive coordinator at Boise State and NC State, Drinkwitz put together three good offensive operations as a head coach at both App State and Missouri. Even with QB injuries last season, the Tigers found a way to be productive last year as Tyler Badie rushed for 1,604 yards and contributed 330 receiving yards.

Well, there are still major QB issues, and Tyler Badie is not walking through that door. That has led to some ugly offensive numbers for Missouri.

Drinkwitz’s offense enters the matchup with Kentucky ranking No. 112 in offensive EPA, No. 104 in offensive success rate, No. 111 in points per drive, and No. 91 in yards per play. The offense doesn’t do anything particularly well.

The Tigers are talented but very young at wide receiver and the running game has been blah as this offense misses the playmaking that Badie provided. In his first year as a starter, Brady Cook has been up and down at quarterback averaging 7.4 yards per attempt with six touchdowns and seven interceptions on 27.8 throws per game.

An argument can easily be made that Missouri has the worst offense in the SEC. The data backs that up as the Tigers do not do anything well on offense.

True No. 1 receiver

When Brady Cook has dropped back to pass this season, not a lot of good things have happened as the former three-star recruit has a poor passing success rate (38.7%). However, when those throws go to Dominic Lovett there is some real positive production.

The former four-star recruit played last year for the Tigers but has turned into a star as a true sophomore. Through eight games. the speedster has 45 receptions on 53 targets for 659 yards and two touchdowns. Lovett is the clear best player for this Missouri offense with three 100-yard receiving games this year.

In the 23-10 road win against South Carolina, three explosive receptions by Lovett led directly to 13 points as the Tigers were able to pull away despite some inefficiency on offense.

When Missouri cannot get explosive receptions from Lovett, this offense can bog down, but the sophomore has been productive in just about every game this year as he’s developed into a clear No. 1 option for this passing game.

Strong but inconsistent kicking game

Harrison Mevis entered the season as one of the top placekickers in college football, and at times he has looked like that. Nicknamed the “Thicker Kicker”, Mevis is 8 of 9 on attempts from 40-plus yards this season and has 10 makes from 50-plus yards in his career. However, there have been some tough moments.

The junior missed what was essentially an extra point at the horn to cost Missouri a road win over Auburn and is just 6 of 10 on field goals less than 40 yards. The All-SEC kicker is a true weapon, but there have been some big misses.

Five-star true freshman Luther Burden III was set to have a big role on offense, but his biggest splash has come on special teams. The St. Louis (Mo.) East product has a punt return touchdown this season as he’s averaging 18.2 yards per return on eight attempts.

However, the punt coverage has been leaky. Foes are averaging 26.4 yards per punt return against the Tigers this season as Mizzou has allowed a punt return touchdown already this season.

The kicking game has been rocky for Kentucky, but the same thing can be said for Missouri.

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