The Missouri Tigers narrowly pulled off a win over the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Saturday night by a score of 23-19. While the Tigers were able to come out of the night with a win, it's a win that nobody feels good about. It's a win that feels like a loss.
All fans were wanting to see was Missouri take care of an obviously inferior opponent at home and end any controversy surrounding the team's ability before the competition becomes more challenging. Unfortunately, that's not what happened.
New year, same offense for Mizzou football
Late in the fourth quarter, there was real concern that Missouri may lose to MTSU after starting quarterback Brady Cook fumbled a ball through the end zone for a safety that made the game 23-19 with MTSU getting the ball back on offense.
Overall, it was a pathetic offensive performance for the Tigers. The offense simply looked lethargic and struggled to sustain drives consistently or put up an appropriate amount of points considering the competition.
Now, some credit should go to MTSU. They've beaten some P5 teams in the past and beat Miami as recently as last year. They're one of the stronger non-P5 teams one can play in the non-conference slate. They even beat Missouri back in 2016. Nonetheless, it's still a team Missouri should be beating by double digits.
Most of the blame has to go to the offense for that not happening. The defense didn't look elite by any means, but they were constantly ran back out onto the field because of the offense and that's not fair to them. As an SEC team, holding MTSU to just 17 points on offense is acceptable. Only scoring 23 point against MTSU on offense is not.
Many people wanted to pass off the questionable offensive performance against South Dakota in week one as not a big deal. Many fans saw through that. they saw elements from the same lackluster offense led by head coach Eli Drinkwitz from the past two years. Through two games in the 2023 season, the alarm bells are ringing loud for this offense.
Fans want to see explosive plays and want to see an offensive display versus FCS and C-USA competition and we can't even get that. We're watching dogfights against inferior teams and quite frankly, if this is the same offense we see next week against Kansas State, Missouri will lose by double digits again and you don't feel good about picking them to win any other games on the schedule.
Eli Drinkwitz had said after the South Dakota game that the team "didn't save anything" on offense and that should've been the warning sign for everyone. Whether or not Drinkwitz was serious when he said that, it's clear that this offense doesn't have much else to offer besides screen plays and running the ball. Despite the hiring of offensive coordinator Kirby Moore, the offense looks the exact same as it has for some time. It looks like it's still Eli Drinkwitz calling the plays and that Moore is simply the offensive coordinator in name.
It's impossible to address the offensive issues without talking about quarterback play. We talk about Drinkwitz's offense looking the same but Brady Cook looks like the same exact quarterback from last year. Everyone wanted to blame the torn labrum injury from last year as an excuse for Cook, but it's hard to tell the difference between a healthy Cook and an injured one at this point.
Cook missed a wide open Luther Burden deep twice for plays that would've been touchdowns. He overthrew Theo Wease on a five yard out route and took a bad sack to end the first drive, and he had an inexplicable fumble that turned into a safety and let MTSU have a chance to pull off a massive upset as 20-point underdogs.
We were sold on the idea that Brady Cook with another offseason and a chance to get healthy could be the guy to lead Missouri to a winning season. After all, they were just a few plays from being 8-4 last year. That said, the offense's ceiling with Cook might just be 6-6.
This offense is very clearly held back by quarterback play and Eli Drinkwitz's mismanagement of the position. How is Cook the best guy you have to offer at quarterback in year four? It's inexcusable. Yes, Brady Cook loves the university and grew up a Missouri fan. That's great, but it doesn't mean he's a starting-caliber quarterback in the SEC. There's been a big enough sample size to say he's not the guy.
Fans will point to the offensive line as another factor hindering this offense and that wouldn't be wrong. The offensive line hasn't been a strength for most of Drinkwitz's tenure, but we knew that MTSU likes to blitz a lot and harass the quarterback and Cook repeatedly held onto the ball like he had four seconds to throw instead of making a quick read to get the ball out even when the blitz was clearly coming. Missouri's defense was sending pressure at MTSU's Nick Vattiato and he was able to make many impressive throws quick enough to avoid pressure.
We've seen personnel upgrades made to the wide receiver group and the offensive line over the past couple years. It just doesn't seem to matter all that much. This receiver group is way too talented for the passing game to not be more effective. Most of that goes back to the quarterback. Everyone wants to find any other excuse other than Brady Cook being a subpar quarterback but you don't have to go any further than the most important position on the offense.
Ultimately, Cook's weaknesses seem to be the same. He struggles to read a defense, his arm strength is subpar, and he constantly misses on routine throws. There will always be a debate on whether it's more of Drinkwitz's play calling or Cook's shortcomings but the truth is it's a combination of both. It's not like the team didn't call designed runs for Cook on Saturday which many have been calling for, they just didn't work and it's hard to open up the playbook when you have a quarterback who has shown over and over again that he can't throw deep consistently.
Missouri's first real test was always going to come in week three against Kansas State, so maybe we should reserve judgement until after that game, but Missouri's showing through the first two weeks doesn't make anyone feel like the Kansas State game will even be competitive. Many are already throwing in the towel on this team and this offense, and it's hard to blame them. New year, same offense it would appear.