Two words: Heart palpitations.
I still have no idea how the final minute of game time between Mizzou and Kansas State played out the way that it did. Mizzou trying to run hurry-up with the game tied, possibly taking its timeout too early, getting right at the edge of their afore-struggling kicker’s supposed range, forgetting completely that football is a game played with a play clock, getting dangerously close to allowing time to expire by trying to run one more play, then running said kicker out for a 61-yard field goal try.
Then, the ball sailed through the uprights, and Faurot Field turned more gold. Mizzou celebrated pulling off a 30-27 win over the AP’s 15th-ranked team in the most unpredictable fashion possible. I’m still trying to process it as I type.
So let’s get to this week’s Knee-Jerk Reactions:
The offense showed another level
The dink-and-dunk, slow-moving unit we saw in the previous game against MTSU quickly became an afterthought. Mizzou’s offense ripped off 10 explosive plays (10+ yard runs, 15+ yard passes) against K-State’s defense, nearly double the amount they had the week before. The play-calling was clearly different. Decision-making was clearly quicker. Luther Burden had another great game, but other guys like Theo Wease, Mookie Cooper and Brett Norfleet got involved, too. The offensive line still had rough moments, but helped give Brady Cook time to throw on play-action. When the run game was stymied, they kept finding ways to get short chunks here and there, then found the right time to let Cody Schrader loose for a 36-yard run to set up another touchdown. It probably wasn’t a perfect game plan, but it sure seemed that way.
It started looking like Mizzou’s offense was more of the same old song and dance that fans have been used to. There was hope that adding Kirby Moore to the offensive staff would give them a jolt. After two weeks, that hope started to fade. Maybe after Saturday, the theory that Mizzou may have been holding back against two lesser opponents before their first real test holds a little more weight. I honestly can’t say one way or the other. But what I can say is that this was a different-looking Mizzou offense. And if it keeps showing up, the folks pegging Mizzou for eight to nine wins in 2023 will be proven right.
Brady Cook played the game of his life
There could be days down the road to be critical of Mizzou’s starting quarterback. Saturday was very clearly not one of those days. Cook completed 23-of-35 passes for 356 yards and two touchdowns. He started the game by hitting a deep pass to Burden for a 49-yard score, constantly hunted more downfield chances throughout the first half, and took some early chances to run the ball against the nation’s top run defense.
Then the injury happened. He suffered a right knee sprain while being forced out of bounds, and had to make way for Sam Horn for a few plays. When he came back in, he seemed to not look the same. The question arose to whether he should stay in if he can’t make the same plays he did through the first 1.5 quarters. Even Eli Drinkwitz confirmed postgame that he needed reassurance from Cook that he could continue being the same quarterback, or else a change needed to be made. Cook said he could gut it out, and he delivered. He hit deep passes to Wease and true freshman Marquis Johnson to set up another scoring chance, and while he wasn’t as accurate in the second half overall, he kept up Mizzou’s quick tempo and never turned the ball over.
Drinkwitz went off in the postgame presser about how fans booed Brady Cook when his name was announced during the starting lineups, saying it “should never happen.” He’s 110 percent right. Cook has endured several injuries now. His team has brought in multiple quarterbacks to compete for his job. Fans have watched him struggle and longed for someone else to take it away from him. In today’s college football, a guy like that might want to transfer. Cook didn’t, because he loves Mizzou too much. He has the mindset that any coach and fanbase would want in a quarterback. That’s not a guy that Mizzou fans should boo. Ever. He’s not perfect. He never has been. He wasn’t on Saturday. But he proved that he deserves much more credit than he’s received.
Harrison Mevis silenced the doubters
Talk about redemption. There was a major question mark heading into the K-State game – a game that was predicted as a little more than a field goal game by oddsmakers – whether or not Mizzou would trust its kicking game. Early on, it seemed that the answer should’ve been ‘no,’ after Mevis pulled a 53-yard kick wide right in the first half. It made fans upset that Drinkwitz elected to kick in the first place, instead of going for a 4th-and-7 play inside the 40. My trust in Mevis had waned after that. But the coaching staff’s trust never did.
Sure enough, another opportunity arose. Mizzou drove down the field with time running out at the end of the game, and got in range for a 56-yard try. Then an inexplicable, inexcusable delay of game penalty pushed them back to a 61-yard try. A hail-mary attempt seemed inevitable. Instead, Mevis trotted out there, and nailed the longest field goal kick in SEC history.
Similar to Cook, Mevis has taken some harsh criticism of late. The talent was always there; he was just in a funk that seemed impossible to shake out from. That’s why this moment was so huge for him. The team never stopped trusting him, and he delivered when he was needed most. Even in the bleakest of stretches for the Thiccer, he added another classic moment to his ledger. Hard not to get behind that, too.
The defense did enough
Shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Mizzou needed to get pressure on Will Howard to force him into bad throws. They largely accomplished that throughout this game. Most of Baker’s blitzes in the first half got Mizzou’s defense a much-needed stop, save for a deflected, underthrown pass in the end zone that Phillip Brooks caught for a good-luck Wildcat touchdown. One underthrow led to Kris Abrams-Draine’s interception, setting up a go-ahead Mizzou scoring drive. The Tigers got three sacks of Howard throughout the game, and Howard looked hobbled toward the end.
This certainly wasn’t a “hang your hat” game from the defense (K-State still converted 8-of-17 on third downs), but in close games against ranked teams, defenses just need a few moments to give their offense a chance. In the fourth quarter, Mizzou held K-State to punt, punt, field goal, punt on its four possessions. This unit experienced a dam break in Manhattan last year in the Wildcats’ 40-12 victory. This year, they held up when they were needed.
Eli Drinkwitz needed this
Yes, the end of the game scenario was horrible. Mizzou got to the edge of field goal range, then got complacent with the play clock and couldn’t get set up for the field goal in time. That’s all on Drinkwitz. He can’t take that much time to prepare his team for the final seconds. Especially now with his offensive workload lightened. It can’t happen again, and he rightfully acknowledged that after the game.
But in the end, the man deserves major credit for Saturday. The offensive guru fans had been searching for since his hiring finally showed up. The game plan worked. Mizzou, for the most part, stayed on schedule. Kirby Moore certainly deserves credit, too. But after each game, win or lose, the head coach always deserves more of the credit or blame than anyone on the coaching staff.
Now, the Tigers are 3-0, Drinkwitz earned probably the biggest win of his career in Columbia, and the program gave a clear example of growth from last year. Not too shabby. After taking down a top-15 team at home, a lot more success is on the table for Mizzou in 2023. Let’s see if they seize it.