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Mizzou Morning Matters

092223_Mizzou Morning Matters

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The T-shirts and Mike Kelly call him LB3. Nineteen games into Luther Burden III‘s college career, the sophomore wide receiver has earned one-name status.

He’s Luther.

In my era of Mizzou football, we’ve had a few.

Corby. Brock. Devin. Brad. Ruck. Danario. Spoon. Henry. Drew.

(Disclaimer: Justin Smith was always Justin Smith and sometimes Smitty, maybe because he played alongside another Justin in the trenches, Justin Wyatt. He didn’t care to be called Godzilla and in San Francisco went by Cowboy. We rarely called Chase Daniel exclusively by his first name. Because we had two Chases: Daniel and Chase Coffman. Jeremy Maclin was J-Mac. Is that one name or two?)

Back on topic. Luther heads into Saturday night’s showdown at No. 24 Kentucky leading the nation in receptions (54) and receiving yards (793). That puts him on pace for 117 catches for 1,718 yards over a 13-game schedule and in range of Mizzou’s single-season records for both categories. Danario Alexander – or, as we made clear earlier, just Danario – holds both Mizzou records, set in his All-American season in 2009: 113 catches for 1,781 yards. Danario, in town last week to celebrate Maclin’s Ring of Honor induction, watched Luther dazzle the sold-out crowd against LSU, just like he did 14 years ago in the Big 12.

Burden vs. Memphis - 2023

Mind you, Luther played every game last season and caught all of 45 passes for 375 yards. How can we explain the massive uptick in production? To find out, I went to the player on the other side of all those passes.

“Obviously, the way it’s panned out, I was hoping this could be the connection that we were going to have this year. That was the plan,” Tigers quarterback Brady Cook told me this week. “It’s definitely been accelerated. And I’m just super impressed how he’s handled it. He continues to play so well.”

One explanation for Luther’s progress is his new position. He’s moved into the slot where he has more room to roam and more mismatches to exploit against slower, less agile defenders in open swaths of turf. But the root cause, Cook believes, comes between the ears. Luther has matched his five-star talents with a five-star understanding of his ability. With success comes a stronger conviction in that talent.

And it helps when defenders simply can’t tackle him in space.

“I think the biggest thing is his confidence,” Cook said. “And it’s his routes and just his playmaking ability. He has so much confidence in himself now that he knows he can go out there and make all these guys miss. He can catch any ball that’s thrown his way. Last year just felt a little different. It felt like he wasn’t as confident in himself.”

Last year we rarely saw Luther fight for the kind of contested catches that he now naturally attacks in the air. In football terms, he’s expanded his catch radius. Any ball up for grabs is his to secure.

“It’s definitely a big difference,” Cook said. “I feel like I can throw it that circle around him and he’s gonna go get the ball.”

That’s where the position change comes into play. The sideline is no longer an extra defender swarming Luther when Cook targets him in the middle of the field.

“I think that transition was huge for him,” Cook said. “He just wasn’t as comfortable on the outside. He wasn’t getting as much access to get the ball.”

Veterans like Cook are hearing more from Burden in the locker room, too.

“He’s developed more relationships with players on the team,” Cook said. “He’s more open to that, especially with me and the offense and even defensive guys. He’s becoming confident enough to speak up and talk. Last year he was very shy.”

Here’s what makes Mizzou’s passing game so impressive and puts Cook’s ascension on a similar upward track: Other receivers have emerged as playmakers in Mizzou’s offense. For all the gaudy numbers on Luther’s stat line, Cook doesn’t have to force feed him the ball. Mookie Cooper has 19 catches over the last four games and creeps closer to career-high totals for catches and yards. Same for Theo Wease Jr., a reliable outside threat already with four touchdown catches. And freshman Marquis Johnson — 32 yards per catch! — looks like the lethal deep threat the offense has lacked at times in recent years. A healthy Mekhi Miller would boost an already strong position group. 

“That’s why I’ve mentioned the last, what, three, four weeks, that having guys like Theo and Mookie, step up … they’re running great routes, they’re getting open and we’re spreading the ball,” Cook said. “That’s only going to open up more stuff for Luther. I think it all works in rhythm.”

More stuff for Luther. Imagine that. 

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More Football!

Watch Coach Eli Drinkwitz‘s weekly press conference:

Listen to Tuesday’s episode of “Tiger Talk” featuring Coach Drinkwitz, defensive line coach Al Davis and defensive tackle Kristian Williams.

On The Rise

With four games left in Mizzou Soccer’s regular season, sophomore Kylee Simmons continues to put together one of the best seasons the program has seen in years. Heading into Friday’s game at Vanderbilt, Simmons leads the SEC in goals (10) and points (22) through just 13 games. She’s closing in on some elite company in team history: With one more goal she’ll be among Mizzou’s top 10 for single-season goals. Kylee’s 10 goals are already the most for a Mizzou player since 2019. 

Simmons vs. SEMO_soccer23

Only three players in team history have scored more than 12 goals in a season — and none in the last 15 years. The only players with more than a dozen goals in a season: Nikki Thole (23 in 1999, 20 in 1998), Erin Grimsley (16 in 1999, 14 in 1998) and Kristin Andrighetto (14 in 2007).

Tiger Trivia

Find answers at the end of today’s newsletter:

1. Mizzou last beat Kentucky in 2020. Only two current Tigers started that game and only six played overall. How many can you name? 

2. In 1968, Mizzou’s only touchdown in a 12-6 loss to Kentucky was a big one — and the first score for one of the program’s all-time greats. Who?

Matter’s Weekly Power Rankings

Each week we’ll highlight the Best of Mizzou with a different theme. The Mizzou-Kentucky series has seen some memorable finishes since the Tigers joined the SEC. Here are the five best MU performances in the series over the last 11 years:

1. Maty Mauk and Dorial Green-Beckham made Mizzou history in 2013 when they connected for four touchdown passes in the Tigers’ 48-17 victory in Lexington as Mauk subbed for an injured James Franklin. Mauk finished with a game-tying school record five TD passes. Green-Beckham’s four TD catches have since been tied as the school mark.

2. Larry Rountree III bludgeoned the Wildcats for 126 yards and two TDs on 37 carries in the 2020 20-10 slugfest victory in Columbia.

3. All-American edge rusher Shane Ray made program history in another 20-10 win over UK, this time in 2014, finishing with two sacks to set the team’s single-season record.

4. Drew Lock kept the Tigers’ chances alive in a 40-34 shootout at UK, finishing with 355 passing yards, three TDs through the air and another on the ground.

5. Tyler Badie was at his multipurpose best in 2021 with 61 yards rushing and 81 receiving on 10 catches plus a touchdown in a 35-28 loss.

Looking Ahead

Friday, Oct. 13

Soccer at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m., SEC Network+ (Nashville, Tennessee)

Tennis at ITA Regionals (College town in state to the west)

Saturday, Oct. 14

Tennis at ITA Regionals (College town in state to the west)

Football at Kentucky, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network (Lexington, Kentucky)

Cross Country at XC 23 Pre-Nationals, 7:45 a.m., 9:30 a.m. (Charlottesville, Virginia)

Softball vs Coe College, 2:30 p.m.

Softball vs Jefferson College, 6 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 15

Tennis at ITA Regionals (College town in state to the west)

Volleyball vs. Ole Miss, 3 p.m., SEC Network+

Monday, Oct. 16

Tennis at ITA Regionals (College town in state to the west)

Thursday, Oct. 19

Soccer vs. Tennessee, 6 p.m. SEC Network+

Friday, Oct. 20

Men’s Swimming & Dividing at Alabama, 10 a.m. (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)

Women’s Swimming & Diving at Alabama, 11 a.m. (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)

Softball vs. Missouri Southern State, 5 p.m.

Softball vs. Central Methodist, 7:30 p.m.

Volleyball at Auburn, 8 p.m., SEC Network+ (Auburn, Alabama)

Links to Click

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Tiger Trivia

1. Two current Tigers started in the 2020 win over Kentucky: guard Xavier Delgado and cornerback Ennis Rakestraw Jr. Four more saw the field for Mizzou: safety Jaylon Carlies, linebacker Chad Bailey, tackle Javon Foster and kicker Harrison Mevis.

2. Mel Gray caught a 79-yard touchdown pass from Terry McMillan in his first college game on his first career reception, launching a brilliant career that led Gray to NFL stardom in St. Louis.

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This article is provided by University of Missouri Athletics