COLUMBIA, Mo. – Mizzou football head coach Eli Drinkwitz’s first year coordinating the offense brought Tigers fans a drastic shift from what was originally expected. In the second quarter of the loss against Tennessee, Drinkwitz made the decision to play Connor Bazelak at the quarterback position over previous starter Shawn Robinson.
Giving Bazelak a shot to take control laid the first block of the foundation for the future of the Mizzou offense.
“I look for five characteristics in a quarterback,” said Drinkwitz in his first press conference after officially accepting the Mizzou head coaching job. “Toughness, preparations, decision-making, accuracy, and leadership. Those five requirements don’t fit in a box. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, quarterbacks come in all shapes and sizes.”
Shifting from Robinson to Bazelak didn’t change the fundamentals of Drinkwitz’s playbook, as the latter demonstrated the mobility necessary to run bootleg passing plays and roll out of the pocket. But, it opened up a downfield passing game that hadn’t surfaced with Robinson under center.
For the second time in five years as an offensive coordinator, Drinkwitz called more passing plays than rushing plays in 2020 (36.3 pass attempts/game versus 35.1 rush attempts/game). Considering the backfield talent on the roster in Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie, entrusting a redshirt freshman quarterback with that volume of plays proclaimed the faith that Drinkwitz had in Bazelak.
Bazelak gave Drinkwitz reason to trust him in the win against LSU, completing 29 of 34 passes for season highs of 408 yards and four touchdowns. The game cemented Bazelak as the starting quarterback for the rest of the season, and it showed the chops of Drinkwitz to utilize Bazelak’s smarts in reading defenses at the snap.
Looking at the LSU game, one play that stands out is Tyler Badie’s 29-yard rushing touchdown at the end of the first quarter. The finale of a nine-play, 75-yard drive, Badie’s score was set up by an efficient, balanced offense.
Rountree III opened the drive with a seven-yard stretch run to the right. After an incomplete pass where he overthrew a wide open Daniel Parker Jr. by a step 25 yards downfield, Bazelak completed two passes of 15 and five yards (the first pass on 3rd and 3) to push the Tigers across midfield.
The next play is key in setting up Badie’s touchdown run. Former Tiger Jalen Knox (the program confirmed his departure earlier in the week) came into the backfield on a motion from the right side; Bazelak executed a triple option play by faking a handoff to Rountree and keeping the ball for a few yards before pitching it back to a trailing Knox. The play earned six yards and a first down, but it would be especially crucial in the drive sequence.
After three plays produced another 13 yards, the Tigers were set up with a 2nd and 7 on the LSU 29-yard-line. Drinkwitz drew up a similar concept to the previous triple option, but Bazelak gave the ball to Badie instead of Knox.
A similar design worked flawlessly late in the 50-48 win against Arkansas, where Badie blasted a 25-yard touchdown run that put the Tigers in front.
The dynamic Missouri run game will, as it did in 2020, allow the offense to expand its passing horizons in 2021 by constantly keeping the defense on its toes and forcing individual defenders to try and prevent multiple play developments.
Missouri’s offense wound up seventh in the SEC in total yards/game and total points/game last season, also finishing sixth in passing yards/game. Obviously, Drinkwitz’s play selection will depend on game script and other situational factors, but Tigers fans can expect an offense that builds on itself to fool opponents and provide Bazelak with an opportunity to showcase his passing ability.
NEWS AND NOTES
Cornerback Jarvis Ware, wide receiver Jalen Knox, cornerback Chris Mills and offensive Mike Ruth will not be returning as Tigers this fall. Ware announced his entry into the transfer portal on Twitter, while a Mizzou spokesperson confirmed to the St. Louis Dispatch’s Dave Matter that the other three players are no longer within the Mizzou football program.
Former Mizzou director of player development L’Damian Washington announced on Twitter earlier this week that he will be accepting a position with Southern University as a wide receivers coach. Washington will also be a Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellow with the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason, observing minicamp and other organized team activities. The former star Mizzou wideout spent a year in his staff position at MU.