Who will be Connor Bazelak’s reliable target?

Last year, Mizzou and Tennessee were the only SEC programs that didn’t have a receiver with 40 or more receptions in the 2020 season. The Tiger offense passed the ball 36.3 times per game, fourth most in the conference, but the plethora of talent to pass the ball to made things too crowded for anyone to take the clear lead. 

Now, with Jalen Knox and Damon Hazelton out of the offense, a large portion of Connor Bazelak’s target share is up for grabs. Although the receiving corps once again stacks up to be crowded, the first-team offense has clearly been established throughout training camp: Keke Chism, Tauskie Dove and Mookie Cooper, health withstanding, in three-receiver sets.

Chism came on strong at the end of the 2020 season. Coming into Columbia as an Angelo State graduate, a Division 2 football program, it took a few weeks for him to break into a consistent offensive role. However, the Texas native was Mizzou’s leading receiver in four of the last six games of the year, eventually leading him to haul in the most passes on the team (35) for the most yards (458). 

He secured just one touchdown catch though, a number that’s sure to increase considering what he brings to the field as an athletic 6’5” wideout with surprising speed and shiftiness. Chism has the frame to climb the ladder in traffic, which will be very useful for a red zone offense that cannot rely on Larry Rountree’s ground production like last year. With another year of training within a new program and a reconstructed offense, Chism will have a key role in Eliah Drinkwitz’s plans.

Redshirt junior Tauskie Dove shined in a few games last year, including against Louisiana State and South Carolina, when he arguably made the Tigers’ best catch of the year on an outside fade over Cam Smith. Dove proved his worth last year as a reliable run blocker as well as his contributions as a receiver, and his size at 6’2” will give Mizzou another red zone threat in addition to Chism. 

Cooper hopes to bring another dynamic in the slot, and he impressed teammates in camp prior to his lower leg injury. Given Drinkwitz’s previous timetable of 10 to 14 days to recover, Cooper is seemingly in line to play next Saturday, but fans will continue to monitor his injury status and eventual return to practice. As Cooper hasn’t played in-game since his junior year of high school, it will be vital to get him as many reps possible ahead of the season. Considering that he’s been pegged a top candidate to be the lead kick/punt returner, he possesses elite pace that causes damage on underneath and upfield routes, opening up the offense.

That leaves room for redshirt senior Barrett Banister to make plays as well, considering his usage as a slot weapon over the last two seasons and his strong rapport with Bazelak, one of Banister’s roommates. In addition, Dominic Lovett can be one of the few true freshman contributors of an offense that possesses a lot of returning talent.

However, no pass-game discussion can be held without mentioning Tyler Badie. The senior tail back shapes up to be the primary ball-handler from scrimmage, working both as a runner and a receiver. Badie caught 28 passes last year for 333 yards, in addition to 48 carries on the ground. Badie is listed as 10 pounds heavier than last year as he gears up for the largest role in the offense. With Elijah Young ready to produce in the backfield alongside him, Drinkwitz can flex Badie into passing situations as a checkdown guy and as a legitimate upfield route runner. 

Like last year, there might not be a clear-cut number one target within the offense, but Bazelak and the Tigers have a variety of options to beat opponents in the air. If there is a standout receiver, Chism seems to be it considering his heavy volume down the stretch last year. 

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