Missouri has maintained a negative reputation as one of the lowest ranked teams in the SEC over the past few years. That’s something coach Eli Drinkwitz and company are working hard to fix in Columbia.
The Tigers have seen some highlights under his guidance, such as a 24-23 win over Florida last season, as well as some eye-catching wins on the recruiting trail. But they still have a way to go before they are considered legitimate SEC contenders.
Here’s a look at 5 statistical trends the Tigers need to reverse in 2022:
1. Reduction of points earned by opponents
Some have heard the saying “defense wins championships”. Whether one agrees with this or not, having at least one competent defense that can keep the opponent’s offense at bay – or at least give them some issues – is of utmost importance. Missouri has struggled to keep opponents out of the end zone and within field goal range, averaging 33.8 points allowed per game in 2021.
While the Tigers had some highlights, like holding a much-vaunted Kentucky team to just one touchdown in a 35-28 loss last September, there were also blowouts like a 62-24 loss to Tennessee and a 43-6 loss to Georgia ( granted, this is the same team that won the national title).
In 13 games, the Tigers gave up 440 points. Mizzou’s defense has been porous, but some recent acquisitions and prospects have a chance to at least change that to a degree.
2. Ground game
The Tigers averaged 5.06 yards per rush in 2021, totaling 463 rushing attempts for 2,342 yards and 22 touchdowns. It wasn’t all bad, and there were high points, but the Tigers failed to deliver in the running game inside and outside. If they could just create some sense of consistency here, which could be helped by a better passing game, there is a chance for more wins.
Tyler Badie was Mizzou’s best man in the backfield last year, but he’s gone to the NFL. Elijah Young and Nathaniel Peat are players to watch at running back, and how well they handle things will have a fair amount to do with the Tigers’ success.
3. General protection
Missouri has improvements to make on both sides of the ball as one of the weakest teams in the conference, and the defense has room to grow in many areas. The Tigers defense allowed an average of 6.38 yards per offensive play in 2021, with a total of 886 offensive plays for 5,651 total yards.
It’s not a stretch to say that Mizzou needs to improve when its offense is off the court. Linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper Jr., a transfer from Florida, could be a difference maker as he finished last season with 62 tackles (32 solo), 2.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed and 1 forced fumble.
Especially looking at the defensive secondary, junior cornerback Kris Abrams-Draine could also be a strength. He is projected to be a future NFL player, and he totaled 37 tackles (30 solo), 7 passes defensed and 3 interceptions in 2021.
4. Run protection
Success against the run is something Missouri just hasn’t found, and it’s among the team’s most glaring issues. The Tigers allowed 5.32 yards per rush in 2021, which is poor overall and an indication of a gift that keeps on giving. They allowed 4.53 yards per rush in 2020 and 3.77 yards per carry in 2019. A closer look only shows further regression.
There are some players who could step up, but a lot remains to be seen. To catch a trend that seems to be getting worse every year would be a significant step in the right direction.
5. Attack on deep shots
This is a team that could take things in some respects in 2021, but failed to win on the field. Yards after the catch and only overall deep pass stats come into play here; Missouri averaged just 10.1 yards per catch. Simply put, the Tigers need to do more through the air. Not only does it clearly help the team move the chains, but a good passing game does wonders for opening up the ground game.
The Tigers will be hoping for strong quarterback play from Brady Cook, who was recently named the team’s starting signal-caller. The sophomore finished last year with a completion rate of 79.3 percent (46 of 58) for 345 yards with 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in 5 appearances. Touted freshman Luther Burden III is surrounded by high expectations and could be a future NFL prospect. If he becomes what many think he can be, Mizzou’s passing game could see a big improvement in the near future.