FORT WORTH, Tx. – Missouri will face Army in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl today, and redshirt freshman Brady Cook will receive his first-career start without having the Tigers’ top offensive star at his disposal.
Senior running back Tyler Badie will not feature in the Armed Forces Bowl after announcing his declaration for the NFL Draft on Instagram yesterday morning. Badie joins Akayleb Evans as the only Tigers to announce 2022 NFL Draft intentions thus far.
“If you truly value your team like they’re your own sons, sometimes you look at things a little differently,” Missouri head football coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. “We tried to sit there and say, ‘what if something went wrong?’, and I had to look myself in the mirror, and I couldn’t do that.”
Drinkwitz previously expected Badie to play, noting he wanted to, but Drinkwitz said “Our staff wanted to take the stress off of him and not put him in a position of having to pick between himself and his future and our football team.” The decision leaves the Tiger backfield to work with starting senior Dawson Downing and senior Simi Bakare, as well as Elijah Young, Michael Cox and BJ Harris as guys who will contend for snaps.
They’ll look to supplement Cook in his third appearance as a Tiger this season. Cook beat out incumbent starter Connor Bazelak and Tyler Macon in two weeks of practice for the nod from Drinkwitz.
“Our quarterback competition has been wide open,” Drinkwitz said, “and I think everybody has done what they can in order to be the quarterback… Brady Cook has had really an outstanding two weeks, whether it was the Saturdays and Sundays we practiced during the recruiting weekends or the way he’s put himself out there to lead, and everybody out there competed for it, but I think for our football team right now, it’s his opportunity to play.”
Cook’s most notable appearance of 2021 came against top-ranked Georgia, where he completed 15 of 19 passes for 78 yards, also running for 32 yards on 10 rush attempts. His mobility is a strong plus to a well-built foundation as a pocket passer, but we haven’t seen Cook try to stretch the field on any deep targets. His career-long pass went for 19 yards in the Georgia game.
The Tigers will also come into action without senior defensive lineman Akial Byers, senior tight end Niko Hea (leaving a depleted tight end core that lines up for a big day for freshman Ryan Hoerstkamp), senior offensive lineman Zeke Powell, team-leading tackler Martez Manuel and offensive lineman Bobby Lawrence due to injuries. While he won’t have two of his senior teammates alongside him on the field (Powell and Case Cook, who has been out since October), Mike Maietti said he’s excited for the final game of his collegiate career.
“I remember when we were going over those weekend practices before we even knew what bowl we were going to,” Maietti said, “I was bothering coach Drink to tell me ‘I know you’ve got some inside info, I’ve been waiting six years for my coach to tell me what bowl game we’re going to,’ to spill the beans, but he kept his lips shut for awhile.”
Army’s signature triple-option offense will be under full display this evening, featuring mobile quarterback Christian Anderson, Tyrell Robinson, the team’s leader in scrimmage yards and yards per carry, Tyhier Tyler and Jakobi Buchanan, who leads the Black Knights with 11 touchdowns and formerly played with Brady Cook at Chaminade College Preparatory in St. Louis.
“I think what made us successful was Brady could really throw the ball,” Buchanan said of his former teammate to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Max Baker. “When you have a quarterback who can take pressure off the running back by making deep balls and by throwing the slant, just placing the ball where it needs to be placed, it takes a lot of pressure off of me. That little 1-2 combo was really effective when we were there.”
Fourteen different athletes have fielded 10 or more carries for Army this season, and the Tigers will have Trajan Jeffcoat among the defense to protect against the opposition’s bruising rushing attack. Jeffcoat announced intentions to return to Missouri in 2022, citing “unfinished business” in a post to Twitter earlier last week.
It will be interesting to see how Drinkwitz allots snaps in a bowl game, as it’s his first as a head coach. It’s fair to expect a lot of rotation, notably among offensive playmakers and the defensive secondary, to give guys a chance to play, but Drinkwitz will need defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and his staff to deploy a strong rushing defense to stop the primary, often sole, component of the Black Knights offense. Drinkwitz has yet to lead the Tigers to a winning season, and today’s effort will determine if that remains true heading into 2022.
On the recruiting front, the Tigers secured the commitment of Boonville defensive end DJ Wesolak for the 2022 class. The 16th athlete of what’s shaping up to be one of the program’s highest-rated recruiting classes, Wesolak is the sixth defensive player and third defensive lineman of the group.
The 2023 class also got an addition this past week, as edge rusher Jakhai Lang, who hails from Troy, Missouri, committed to the Tigers. He’s a 6’3”, 240-pound athlete who garnered six sacks and 11 TFL in his junior year at Troy-Buchanan High School.
Another big addition came in the form of Clemson transfer Joseph Charleston, who committed to the] Tigers of black and gold after three years with the Tigers of orange. Charleston put up 55 tackles in his sophomore season, good for third-most on the team. He will look to boost an already-impressive safety group including Manuel and team-leader in forced turnovers Jaylon Carlies next season.