Improvement: Quarterback Depth
One area that shows promise for improvement is the quarterback depth. Last season, Brady Cook faced criticism for his decision-making and limitations in the passing game, leading to calls for a new signal-caller. However, injuries and a subpar offensive line also played a role in Cook’s struggles. This season, the Tigers have options with more experience and potential. Sam Horn, a 4-star freshman, now has a year of experience under his belt and is ready to potentially take over for Cook. Additionally, Miami transfer Jake Garcia, a former 4-star recruit known for his arm talent, could challenge for the starting position. With improved backup options, Tigers fans can feel more confident in the team’s quarterback situation.
Decline: Vertical Passing Threats
The departure of Dominic Lovett, the team’s top deep threat, leaves a void in the downfield passing game. Lovett’s ability to make big plays with his 15.1 yards per catch will be missed. While the Tigers have talented receivers like Luther Burden III, Mekhi Miller, and Mookie Cooper, they have proven to be more effective in short-passing games. Oklahoma transfer Theo Wease Jr. has shown the ability to win in the air, but he lacks the same speed as Lovett. Offensive coordinator Kirby Moore will face the challenge of finding a reliable downfield threat to fill the void left by Lovett’s departure.
Improvement: Offensive Play-Calling
One area where the Tigers have made a significant improvement is in offensive play-calling. Coach Drinkwitz recognized the need for a change and hired Kirby Moore from Fresno State to take over the play-calling duties. Moore, known for his success at Fresno State, brings a fresh perspective and an up-and-coming coaching mind to the team. His offensive system aligns with Drinkwitz’s vision while adding some much-needed creativity to the play-calling. With Moore at the helm, the Tigers’ offense should see improvements in its performance and efficiency.
Decline: Intercepting Passes
While the defense had a stellar 2022 season, recording 11 interceptions, teams may be less willing to test the Tigers’ secondary in the upcoming season. Kris Abrams-Draine and Ennis Rakestraw Jr. have established themselves as formidable defensive backs, earning a reputation that precedes them. As a result, opposing teams may opt for fewer risky passes, leading to a potential decline in the number of interceptions for the Tigers. While this may be a positive in terms of limiting explosive plays by opponents, it may not be as exciting for fans who enjoy seeing turnovers.
Improvement: Limiting Explosive Plays
On the flip side, the Tigers’ secondary has an opportunity to improve in another area: limiting explosive plays. While the secondary, including players like Abrams-Draine, Rakestraw, Manuel, Charleston, Carlies, and Carnell, is already recognized as one of the most intimidating in the SEC, they did have a tendency to give up big plays due to broken coverages. With the majority of the secondary returning for another season and increased familiarity with the defensive system under defensive coordinator Blake Baker, the Tigers’ defensive backs should be able to reduce mental mistakes and prevent explosive plays more effectively.
Decline: Pass Rush
Missouri’s defensive line, known as “D-Line Zou,” was a force to be reckoned with last season, allowing only 127 yards on the ground per game and recording 35 sacks. However, the departures of defensive ends Isaiah McGuire and DJ Coleman, who both made it to the NFL, leave a void on the edge. While the Tigers have depth in the defensive tackle room, the transition of veteran Darius Robinson to defensive end may not fully compensate for the loss of McGuire and Coleman. Robinson is a vocal leader with burst and size, but he is still adjusting to the position. The Tigers will rely on unproven talent from high school and the transfer portal to fill the void left by their former standout defensive ends.
Improvement: Winning Close Games
Mizzou has been on the losing side of several close games since Coach Drinkwitz took over in 2020. In fact, they have lost seven games by single digits, including four in the 2022 season alone. However, the experience gained from these tough losses has prepared the team for late-game scenarios. The 2023 season presents an opportunity for the Tigers to turn the tide and come out on top in close contests. With key swing games like Kansas State, Florida, and South Carolina being played at home in Faurot Field, the veteran squad will be unfazed by the pressure and should have the resilience to secure victories in these critical moments.
Decline: An Unfavorable Bye Week
A well-timed bye week can provide a much-needed break and strategic advantage for a team. Unfortunately, the Tigers’ bye week in the 2023 season falls in Week 9, leaving them with a challenging stretch of eight games before getting a break. To make matters worse, the game following the bye week is a tough road matchup against Georgia, one of the top teams in the nation. This unfavorable scheduling could take a toll on the team’s physical and mental stamina, making it a difficult period for the Tigers.
Improvement: 3rd-Down Conversion Rate
In 2022, the Tigers’ offense struggled on third downs, ranking 64th in the nation with a 39.4% conversion rate. This statistic played a significant role in their losses to Kansas State, Auburn, and Kentucky. However, with a more experienced offense and an updated offensive scheme, the Tigers should see an improvement in their 3rd-down conversion rate for the upcoming season. Late-game conversions on third downs can be game-changers, and the team’s growth in this area will be crucial to their success.
Decline: More Difficult Nonconference Schedule
Compared to the relatively manageable nonconference schedule in 2022, the Tigers face a more challenging slate in 2023. While Kansas State may experience a regression from their successful 2022 season, they always field a tough and physical team that tests their opponents. Additionally, a matchup against a hungry Memphis team, known for its explosive offense, adds another layer of difficulty. Although the season opener against South Dakota should be manageable, a scrappy Middle Tennessee State team, which defeated Missouri in 2016, poses a potential challenge. Overall, the 2023 nonconference schedule presents tougher competition for the Tigers.
As the 2023 season approaches, the Missouri football team under Coach Drinkwitz is poised for growth in several areas. The improved quarterback depth, offensive play-calling, and the potential for limiting explosive plays on defense provide reasons for optimism. However, challenges in finding a new vertical passing threat, maintaining a strong pass rush, and navigating a difficult nonconference schedule will test the Tigers’ resolve. With a focus on winning close games and improving their 3rd-down conversion rate, the team is determined to break the streak of non-winning seasons. Mizzou fans eagerly await the upcoming season, hoping for a successful campaign and a return to glory for their beloved Tigers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Will Sam Horn be the starting quarterback for the Tigers in 2023? A: While it’s too early to determine the starting quarterback for the upcoming season, Sam Horn’s year of experience and potential make him a strong candidate to potentially take over for Brady Cook.
Q: Can the Tigers find a new downfield threat to replace Dominic Lovett? A: The departure of Dominic Lovett leaves a void in the downfield passing game, but offensive coordinator Kirby Moore will explore options to find a reliable downfield threat. Luther Burden III, Mekhi Miller, and Mookie Cooper, among others, will have an opportunity to step up and contribute.
Q: How will the Tigers’ defense fare without Isaiah McGuire and DJ Coleman? A: The loss of Isaiah McGuire and DJ Coleman, who both made it to the NFL, creates a challenge for the Tigers’ pass rush. Darius Robinson’s transition to defensive end and the emergence of unproven talent will be crucial in filling the void left by their former standout defensive ends.
Q: Can the Tigers improve their record in close games? A: The Tigers’ experience in close games should serve them well in the upcoming season. With key swing games being played at home and a veteran squad that has learned from tough losses, the Tigers are determined to turn the tide and come out on top in close contests.
Q: How difficult is the Tigers’ nonconference schedule in 2023? A: The Tigers face a more challenging nonconference schedule in 2023 compared to the previous year. While Kansas State may take a step back, they always field a tough team. Additionally, Memphis and Middle Tennessee State present formidable opponents with their explosive offenses and competitive spirit. The Tigers will need to bring their A-game to navigate this tougher slate.