MO State HS Sports

Knee-Jerk Reactions: Mizzou 35, South Dakota 10

Most of Thursday just reminded me how glad I am that college football is back.

We spent the better part of eight months mostly speculating on what Mizzou football is capable of in 2023, and we finally have at least a glimpse. And those three hours of data have caused us all to take up arms on either side of a quarterback battle that appears to not exist based on the head coach’s allotment of time for both contestants. We go from cautious – dare I say, confident – optimism, to scalding hot takes over 26 combined pass attempts. All during a comfortable 35-10 Mizzou victory over FCS foe South Dakota. For that reason, there will never be any sport quite like college football.

So with that, let’s dive into the season’s first edition of the Knee-Jerk Reactions:

Is this really a quarterback competition?

Brady Cook did absolutely nothing to suggest that he isn’t deserving of the starting job. He went 17-of-21 for 172 yards, threw for a touchdown and ran for another. Four of the six possessions he led ended in touchdowns, including a 14-play drive that covered 81 yards and more than five minutes, and an 83-yard drive in less than a minute before halftime. Mizzou scored 80 percent of its points when he was on the field. He wasn’t all that explosive, but he also wasn’t asked to be. All in all, he put together a good half of football and didn’t do a thing to knock him out of the starter race.

And yet, I think the same can be said for Sam Horn. He got just four possessions compared to Cook’s six, and just five pass attempts to Cook’s 21. In the smaller amount of time he was allowed, he threw the longest completion that either quarterback threw on the night (31 yards). He also had the lowest point that either quarterback had: an interception in Mizzou’s half from a ball tipped in the air by his receiver. There were higher highs and lower lows from his time on the field, in a smaller sample size than what Cook received.

Who did better? It really comes down to what you value: consistency, or big-play potential. Cook gave you the former, Horn gave you the latter. If you held my feet to the fire, I’d say Cook. But the time both guys got on the field does play a big factor.

Eli Drinkwitz strongly stated postgame that the quarterback competition is still going on. But his actions say otherwise. If he’s still strongly considering both Cook and Horn, I think we should’ve seen them both in the first half. An even split of the six possessions Mizzou received in the first two quarters would’ve given a clearer picture of how either quarterback handles the game. It’s hard not to see Cook as a clear front-runner in this race. If he’s the guy, Drinkwitz should say so. If it’s still up in the air, then this needs to be handled more fairly. In order to do that, Horn should get more of a chance to lead early drives in the next game against Middle Tennessee State. We’ll see if that actually happens.

The offensive line gave no reason to panic

We do need to account for the FCS opponent here, but a unit that needed to show signs of improvement showed just that. The offensive line allowed for Mizzou’s rushing attack to average 5.5 yards per carry, and largely kept a clean pocket for both quarterbacks on passing downs, allowing just a single sack and no other QB hurries. South Dakota’s front four looked outmatched for most of the night, allowing Mizzou to run its offense how they saw fit. It’s a simple case of how football tends to come down to winning in the trenches, and Mizzou had a clear talent mismatch.

Again, this game could only tell us bad things about how the offensive line could look for most of the season, especially if they struggled. But they didn’t, so you can’t raise any red flags. They will still need to show these improvements as the weeks roll along. That said, it seems this unit is forming a solid five guys up front, and also has a few interchangeable backups that can step in if need be. We may not be done answering questions of this unit going forward, but they passed the first test.

The defense looked solid

Another unit that shouldn’t give Mizzou fans reason to panic. Even though South Dakota started gaining some offensive momentum in the second half, the defense didn’t have many huge breakdowns like we saw in Mizzou’s home opener against Louisiana Tech last year. South Dakota was held to 1.1 yards per carry and 3.2 yards per play. The Tigers recorded five tackles for loss and two sacks. They held South Dakota to 2-of-13 on third down. The only touchdown drive they gave up was following Horn’s interception in the Tigers’ own half. Again, a lot of football comes down to winning in the trenches, and Mizzou won those battles quite often on both sides of the ball. The defense had a mismatch and they took advantage.

A lot is made about the returning guys on this defense, and rightfully so. But I’m intrigued to see how many more young guys get a chance going forward. Johnny Walker Jr. recorded six tackles and half a sack. Daylan Carnell played at the star safety most of the night, with Tre’Vez Johnson filling in for JC Carlies at free safety. The freshman who got the most run was Marvin Burks, who came up with an eye-opening sack on fourth down in the third quarter. The headline guys (Ty’Ron Hopper, Ennis Rakestraw, Kris Abrams-Draine, etc.) played solidly, but keep an eye on the other, younger parts of Mizzou’s strong defensive unit in the coming weeks.

There might be a problem with Harrison Mevis

Has anyone tried unplugging Mevis and plugging him back in? Because something’s off. The Thiccer Kicker missed his only two field goal attempts of 48 and 34 yards on the night, and while he was a perfect 5-for-5 on extra points, a wild shank on one of those tries was wiped out by a South Dakota penalty. For a guy who had previously taken Mizzou’s kicker position to another level, we’ve seen a gradual decline over the last season-plus.

There was a question of whether or not Mevis would shake off a junior season that fell short of the bar he had set in his first two. I still think he’s capable of doing so. It’s not like his talent magically went away. But kicking can be a tough mental game. One bad moment can turn into several very quickly; just ask Brett Maher, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys. Mevis is still a weapon for this team and will be called upon to hit long field goals in several coming moments this season, as he always has. But it might be prudent to not think of him as automatic anymore.

Task No. 1 was accomplished

There’s a lot to figure out; quarterbacks, offensive line, Mevis, etc. Don’t let that cloud the fact that Mizzou had a solid, mostly comfortable opening game. At no point was the game really in question, despite South Dakota putting forth a valiant effort. Mizzou had to characterize how large of a talent gap there was between these two teams. I think they did exactly that. Even though they came just short of covering the spread, you can’t ask for much more than what you saw.

There may be a little more to learn from next weekend’s game against MTSU, but not much. The start to this season will be a slow burn as far as testing this team’s true strength. Kansas State will be the first watershed moment. There’s still time to prepare this team to overcome that first big obstacle. We’ll see what the next data point looks like. But the first one didn’t look too shabby.