The 2019 football season did not play out as expected for Missouri and head coach Barry Odom. Mizzou had recovered from a season-opening upset loss to Wyoming to win five games in a row. The defense was thriving, and quarterback Kelly Bryant, a Clemson graduate transfer, was doing what he was brought to Columbia to do. But then the progress suddenly stopped. Bryant got dinged up and grew less elusive. The offensive line stopped opening holes. The receiving corps was an injury-riddled revolving door. Mizzou lost five games in a row, averaging just nine points per game in that stretch.
The Tigers beat Arkansas to finish 6–6, which would have been good enough to go bowling if the NCAA hadn’t upheld a one-year postseason ban stemming from the actions of a tutor. But the disappointment was palpable, and athletic director Jim Sterk fired Odom, replacing him with Eliah Drinkwitz.
A former Gus Malzahn protege, the 37-year-old Drinkwitz led Appalachian State to a 13–1 season in his first year as a head coach. He kept a few members of Odom’s defensive coaching staff, including coordinator Ryan Walters, and the Tigers will hope to combine last season’s defensive prowess with offensive rejuvenation.
Previewing Missouri's Offense for 2020
Before spring football was canceled, Mizzou was embarking on a four-way QB competition featuring TCU transfer Shawn Robinson, two-year backup Taylor Powell, redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak, and incoming first-year Brady Cook. Bazelak started the final game of last season but tore his ACL. Powell got a more extensive audition in 2019 but completed just 47 percent of his passes. One assumes that Robinson is the front-runner. A former blue-chipper, Robinson has running ability that no one else in the competition can boast. But Mizzou doesn’t need potential in 2020 — it needs production. And the Tigers really could have used spring practices to enhance familiarity.
The new starting QB will have a strong set of running backs next to him. Larry Rountree III has rushed for at least 700 yards in all three of his seasons in Columbia, peaking with 1,216 in 2018. Last season was a struggle at times, but if the supporting cast does its part, Rountree will do his. Drinkwitz will likely have some fun with Tyler Badie, too. The junior has solid vision and agility and has caught 44 passes in two seasons.
Last year’s top three receiving targets are gone, so Drinkwitz will be making do with a makeshift cast: Virginia Tech and Ball State transfer Damon Hazelton, junior Jalen Knox (victim of a major sophomore slump last fall), former walk-on Barrett Banister, and tight end Daniel Parker Jr., among others.
After improving through the first half of 2019, the line’s effectiveness vanished. And now three starters are gone. Three veteran juniors do still return, as do a host of sophomores who got their feet wet. This is a big unit — the top eight returnees average 6'6", 321 — but it’s one that has to redeem itself a bit in 2020.
Previewing Missouri's Defense for 2020
Mizzou boasted one of the sturdiest run defenses in the SEC in 2019, and while tackle Jordan Elliott was a big part of that, his is the only major departure. Tackle Kobie Whiteside returns, as do the top three ends. Granted, that trio combined for just three sacks, and the pass rush has been a concern for a few years now. The experience level is high, if nothing else, and the sturdiness against the run should continue.
Cale Garrett was maybe the best linebacker in the country through five games but lost the rest of his senior season to a torn pectoral. When he went out, it was another former unheralded recruit, Nick Bolton, who finished the year as Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded power-conference linebacker. He is outstanding. Junior Cameron Wilkins and sophomore Devin Nicholson saw playing time in Garrett’s absence as well.
Despite the lack of a pass rush, Missouri led the country in allowing just a 50.3 percent completion rate and ranked ninth in passer rating allowed (111.8). The safety corps should be dynamite again. Seniors Tyree Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe combined for 17 breakups and eight TFLs and will once again patrol, and while last year’s top two nickel backs are gone, sophomore Stacy Brown looks right out of central casting. The cornerback unit took a hit, however, losing DeMarkus Acy to expired eligibility and Christian Holmes to transfer. Junior Jarvis Ware should be ready to fill a No. 1 corner’s responsibilities, but the No. 2 role is up for grabs.
Previewing Missouri's Specialists for 2020
Punter and longtime placekicker Tucker McCann is gone, as is punt returner Richaud Floyd, who finished his career with three TDs. Drinkwitz did sign highly touted kicker Harrison Mevis, but relying on a freshman is a scary proposition. Kentucky graduate transfer Grant McKinniss joined the team in late June and should factor into the battle at kicker and punter. In the return game, Badie has experience on kickoffs, but that’s about it. This unit is a blank slate.
Drinkwitz still doesn’t know what he’s got at quarterback thanks to the abbreviated spring session, and the Tigers could be underdogs in all five road games (South Carolina, Tennessee, BYU, Mississippi State, Florida). That doesn’t offer a ton of margin for error — if the Tigers bowl in 2020, Drinkwitz’s first season will have been a success.
National Ranking: 52
(Top photo courtesy of Missouri Athletics)