As a part of our offseason preview series, we will be taking a look at teams that may be more adversely affected than their counterparts by the challenges of an offseason offset by COVID-19. Teams previously covered: Mississippi State and Washington.
With offseason workouts and practices derailed due to the effects of COVID-19, there are more uncertainties than ever before as we head into the college football season. Teams that bring even more uncertainties of their own (new head coach, new offensive coordinator, etc.) into the equation are more likely to encounter adversity this year than teams with relatively few question marks. Since the offensive side of the ball generally benefits from more practice reps and will be more volatile than team defense when projecting 2020 performance, additional weight is given when considering offensive scheme changes and returning production.
Head coaching change: Yes
Offensive coordinator change: Yes
New quarterback: Yes
Returning experience concern: Yes – #100 overall, #111 offensively
*Note: returning experience numbers according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly
Reasons for optimism: Drinkwitz’s strong (if brief) track record and strong defense
The Learning Curve
While there is reason for optimism in Columbia after the offseason hire of Eliah Drinkwitz as head coach, year one may pose a steep learning curve. Missouri checks every one of our boxes above and thereby garners automatic scepticism regarding their onfield performance this year. First off, it’s highly uncommon for an SEC head coach, or any head coach in college football for that matter, to have such little head coaching experience under his belt before taking over as the head guy for a program. While Drinkwitz had an impressive run as the NC State Offensive Coordinator and led Appalachian State to a 13-1 record in 2019, it’s fair to question if his experience has prepared him to achieve immediate success in charge of an SEC program. I anticipate 2020 to present a steep learning curve as he immediately gets thrown into the gauntlet that is life in the SEC.
He inherited a completely loaded roster for a Sun Belt squad while at Appalachian State and successfully played to their strengths. It’s fair to say that Missouri’s roster … shall we say … presents less reason for optimism this time around. It appears that Drinkwitz will be calling the plays for the Tigers this year as well. This means that Missouri will have a new head coach and offensive coordinator in the same year that they are breaking in a new quarterback and returning very little offensive experience. It’s unclear just how much the scheme will change offensively, as Drinkwitz was run-heavy with App State last year due to that being the strength of their team. He seems to ideally want to throw the ball a fair amount. Long story short, there are questions about what this offense will look like. These things take some time to figure out, and unfortunately that time has been altered due to an irregular offseason. If Drinktwitz finds real success in Columbia, it will likely be in 2021 or beyond.
A four-way QB competition was supposed to be clarified during spring practices. Due to a lack of on field reps during the spring, it’s still unclear who will take the first snap for the Tigers come fall. The seeming favorite is TCU transfer Shawn Robinson, a dual-threat quarterback who has shown potential but hasn’t produced at the level of an SEC QB yet. The offense around him is ranked #111 in returning production, which won’t help either Robinson or Drinkwitz as they adapt to the rigors of an SEC schedule. While RB Larry Rountree III provides plenty of experience to rely on, it’s hard to see him as much of a savior when the team as a whole managed only 3.82 yards per rushing attempt a year ago. I expect Virginia Tech transfer Damon Hazelton to be the top target at WR and provide a steady option for whoever the QB may be, which does boost this offense’s overall outlook slightly this year.
In conclusion, a lot of different factors need to go right for this offense to hum, and the odds aren’t with them in quite a few different categories. A bounceback season is needed from the running game (both Rountree and the offensive line included) for this offense to stay afloat, but staying afloat doesn’t light up the scoreboard. They need everything to fall into place for the offense to succeed, and that’s too much uncertainty to rely on. Simply put, they don’t appear to be in the top half of the SEC at any offensive position group.
Stats to Know – 2019 SEC Conference-play
|17.9||Points per game||12|
|328.5||Total yards per game||12|
|3.82||Yards per rush||14|
|22.4||Points allowed per game||4|
|359.9||Total yards allowed per game||4|
|4.25||Tackles for loss per game||13|
Numbers don’t lie. The offense was bad all around, but especially in the rushing department. The defense was very solid, but could use a little more pressure at the line of scrimmage in order to take the next step. It’s a tall ask for this defense to be even better than they were a year ago, so the onus lies on the offensive side of the ball.
Season Outlook and Schedule Overview
Overall, there are enough reasons for concern that I’m skeptical of this team as a whole. Drinkwitz will need to work some magic in his first year in town, and while that’s not unlikely, it’s also not impossible either. His track record has been excellent thus far and some people around the country view him as a rising star. I expect Drinkwitz to need at least a full year before this offense and this team start to make huge improvements. The defense will be good enough (#14 nationally in yards per game allowed in 2019) to keep the scoreboard close in most games, but nothing will come easy this year.
The SEC moving to a conference-only schedule for 2020 is no welcome news to the Tigers — they lose warm-up games to Central Arkansas and Eastern Michigan that would’ve allowed the offense to find a rhythm early and build some confidence going into SEC play.
This team is in for a gauntlet of a schedule, even for an SEC team. They drew Alabama and LSU as added games, which will draw no gratitude from Mizzou’s side of things. There will be no easy games and they’ll probably only be favored in two or three games (Arkansas and Vandy likely, South Carolina possibly). There are four losses on the schedule (Florida, Georgia, LSU, Alabama — all preseason top-10 teams), meaning that they’ll need to pull off two upsets to finish 5-5. I wouldn’t expect that to happen.
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