It took all 12 weeks of the season, but on Black Friday, we finally saw hope for the future of the Missouri offense.
The Tigers scored on six of their first seven drives, giving Mizzou a 29-21 lead and holding on for a 29-27 win. Dominic Lovett he leapt to fourth on the SEC’s regular season recipient list, at least for now. Luther Burden scored a touchdown. Cody Schrader also. Mookie Cooper And Mechi Miller contributed. Those players are all scheduled to return next season.
“We showed what Missouri’s offense could be,” Lovett said, after a six catch, 130-yard game.
“I’d say that’s a pretty accurate statement,” quarterback Brady Cook he said when asked if Friday was a taste of the future for Mizzou’s passing game. “It just goes to show you that we can get the ball to a lot of different athletes and a lot of different people can make plays.”
Cook was one of the guys who did those plays. Perhaps most of them. Canceled all season – and I’m not blaming it here, because I’ve been there with you loads of times –Brady Cook put together his best game of the year. He knocked out KJ Jefferson KJ Jefferson.
Cook completed 16 of 26 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown. He ran 18 times for 138 yards and one more score. That’s 380 total yards to Jefferson’s 243. Those were the most rushing yards by a Missouri quarterback since James Franklin in the 2011 Independence Bowl win against North Carolina. Cook talked about learning to take outlets of him and what the defense is giving him.
“Sometimes, the outlet is my feet,” she said.
Perhaps more than all those numbers was this: facing the third and four with the game up for grabs with two minutes to go, Eli Drinkwitz he finally showed the confidence in Cook that he hasn’t had all season. Rather than throw the ball back to the Razorbacks and trusting his defense to stall, Drinkwitz and Bush Hamdan let the game turn to Cook’s right arm. He stole a ride from the real freshman Mechi Miller for a 22-yard gain that effectively ended Arkansas’ chances and sealed Missouri’s sixth win.
“We wanted to win the game,” Drinkwitz said.
Would he have made that call and handed the game to his quarterback a few weeks ago?
“I don’t know,” he said. “But we did it today.”
Here’s why: In his last five games, Cook completed 90 of 138 passes (65.2%) for 1081 yards and seven touchdowns. He ran the ball 60 times for 385 yards and four other scores. He did it all with a grand total of one turnover.
The Tigers won three of those games to scratch and work their way to guaranteed bowl eligibility. Get a 17-14 win over Vanderbilt in the seventh game of the season and Cook guided Missouri to a 4-2 second half season finish that was a bizarre end against 5-1 Kentucky.
Person after person who spoke of Cook brought up his increased confidence as the reason for his improved game. But it’s not just Cook’s self-confidence. The coaching staff seem to have more confidence that he can make a play for them than in the first half of the season. Maybe his teammates do too.
“That means a lot,” Cook said. “We had to make a play to win the game. I think that game helped us a bit.
Here’s the real question: Is it enough that he be Eli Drinkwitz’s starting quarterback in 2023?
It depends on two projections.
First off, what do the Tigers think they have Sam Horn? Those of us who aren’t in the building every day have no idea. Horn threw two passes and rushed once for ten yards this season. He was only on the field for a one-time series against New Mexico State. We know he has four stars next to his name about him. We know that he has the build of an NFL quarterback and a right arm capable of throwing a 95 mph fastball. What we don’t know is whether he is capable of being a good starting quarterback in the Southeastern Conference.
The other projection is of Cook himself. Is there more growth? Or is the performance that we’ve seen over the last five weeks, which was better, but not star quality, the ceiling?
Cook made strides in the offseason to win the job. He has come a long way during the season to the point where Missouri actually has a competent offense. But is that offense good enough to win a significant number of games in 2023? It’s a fair question. Missouri needs at least the quarterback game it had on a relatively consistent basis on Saturday next season, and they won’t have the luxury of playing a porous defense like Arkansas’s every week.
Of course, Missouri will have to keep putting pieces around him and in front of him. It’s not all about the quarterback. But it was never all about the quarterback, despite what many of us have often heaped on Cook this season. Much of the year, the common talking point was that Missouri was one quarterback away from having a good team. But what if they already have that quarterback?
Over the final five weeks of the season, Cook averaged 293.2 yards of total offense, accounted for 11 touchdowns, and turned the ball over once. A loss could be changed under a seemingly incredibly silly rule involving when a punter is no longer a punter. In the other, Missouri’s normally reliable defense gave up 66 points.
Cook earned the doubt we all had during the first seven weeks of the season. Despite everything, he never replied. Maybe he bothered him. We really don’t know. He says he didn’t.
“My mentality has never changed,” he said. “I know it’s a lot of noise out there. That’s just part of the job of being an SEC quarterback. I have fought many adversities. I will continue to fight for Mizzou. I love this school. I love this team. I love all our coaches. And no outside noise will change that.
If we insist that he deserved the criticism, we must also be willing to admit that he has forced us to reconsider. He speaks like a leader. Can he be the leader of this team in 2023? For the first time all year, I’m open to the possibility.
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