In lieu of our normally scheduled Mizzou Chat, I took your questions via Twitter this week.
Q: Was Bazelak okay after game on Saturday? Didn't see him on TV w all the players just after the winning play. A couple of minutes later, he's shown standing somewhere basically by himself, looking somewhat down. Worn down perhaps by the classless MU fans who booed him during game? - ADDhart, @goTgrS20
A: I saw the same clip. He looked pretty sullen walking across the field and into the locker room after winning the game on his final pass. He’s not a very demonstrative person. I’m sure the booing bothered him at the time. Fans can say they were booing Drinkwitz’s play-calling or the officials, but between social media and the boos at the stadium, plenty of fans have made it clear they don’t want to see Bazelak on the field any longer. He’s clearly aware of that. Boos are part of sports. I get it. Bazelak gets it, too. That doesn’t mean he has to like it, especially when he’s giving everything he has to his team while playing with an injury. It’s fair to criticize his accuracy and decision making, but not his toughness or commitment.
Here’s what he said this week when asked about the boos: “I think I kind of just forget about it. The same fans that were booing are the same ones cheering in the end. Everyone's got their own opinions and they can have those, but I'm not too worried about it.”
Q: If you are Tyler Badie, do you play in the bowl game or do you sit out and train for the NFL combine? - Jennifer Heismeyer, @heismeyer
A: I’m hearing from NFL sources that Badie is considered a late-round prospect at this point, similar to Rountree last year. He’ll have to ask himself if the risk of playing in a bowl game is worth the reward? Can he help his stock with a strong bowl game? Or does the experience of playing one more college game with your teammates and coaches outweigh the risk? He seemed very genuine saying how determined he was to get sixth-year center Mike Maietti to his first bowl game. If that’s something he truly cares about, he doesn’t strike me as someone who wants to bail before the bowl game. But that’s the trend these days. Larry Borom and Nick Bolton didn’t plan to play in last year’s bowl game before it was canceled.
Q: I have not seen his name in any articles related to the open coaching positions, but would any of the schools with open positions right now have interest in Drinkwitz do you think? What type of program would he be tempted to leave for? - Tim McKay, @tmckay18
A: I’ve not seen or heard his name mentioned for any of the openings. I don’t think he’s a realistic option that moves the needle at the best jobs on the market: USC, LSU or Florida. He’s not going to attract attention for one of those jobs with an 11-10 record as a Power 5 head coach. Washington and Virginia Tech are very good jobs. But they don’t strike me as places that he’d prefer over Mizzou and $4 million a year. He’s in that air space where he’s not successful enough for the elite jobs but has a better job — or a job that’s no worse — than the second tier of openings.
Q: Is the improvement in defense primarily due to the coaching change? A different voice teaching? Some saw it as a sacrificial lamb. But I think Drink is smart and identified and corrected the problem. Your take? - Gary Pool, @poolmwv
A: It’s a combination of factors. I think the D-line coaching change has helped. The D-linemen seem very attached to Al Davis, and I think he brings a different energy to that group. I think the players are more bought into Steve Wilks and his system. There’s always a learning curve with a new scheme. And there was clearly a learning curve for Wilks adjusting to the college game. Some personnel moves paid off, too. Chad Bailey and the new and improved Blaze Alldredge have played much better than the other combinations they tried at linebacker. Bailey is a physical tackler. Huge upgrade there. Trajan Jeffcoat has (finally) started making impact plays on the edge. Kris Abrams-Draine has settled into his position and playing with confidence at nickelback. Then, more than anything, the players have just played better. Linemen are much more disciplined and staying in their gaps. They’re getting off blocks. Everyone tackles better.
I asked Martez Manuel the other day how he explains the dramatically improved tackling.
“A lot of people have asked me what’s changed,” he said. “I'm just like, I don't know. I just think that at some point … this is our defensive unit room. At some point, I feel like we were just in here (and said), ‘This is all we have. Everybody on the outside is not with us. Nobody on the outside is with us.’ … I feel like at first sometimes people were pointing fingers. ‘The D-line’s not doing this.’ Or, ‘We’re not getting sacks because the DBs aren’t covering.’ Stuff like that. But then at some point we were like, ‘Hey, to the outside world, we all suck. We’ve got to buy in together. We’ve got to lean on each other and be there for each other.’ That’s really been the difference.
“And Coach Wilks has done such a great job. I really commend him because he got it worse than any of us in the season and to be able to see how he handles stuff like that and continue to be a leader it's just truly inspiring. He's a really good leader and I wouldn't want to play for anybody else but him.”
Pretty strong statement from the defensive captain.
Q: With Oklahoma and Texas entering the SEC, will Mizzou lose recruiting ground to these schools in those states, and how will Mizzou have to adapt to be successful? - Chester Copperpot, @Chester09323529
A: It’s hard to predict exactly what will happen, but MU’s expectation internally is that recruits in Oklahoma and Texas will be more interested in playing in the SEC once the Sooners and Horns join the league — and those schools can still only sign 25 players a year. That leaves hundreds more of FBS prospects in those states that could still play in the SEC against the Sooners and Horns instead of with them. Mizzou isn’t beating Oklahoma or Texas head-to-head for many recruits right now. That won’t change once they join the SEC. But the hope is their move deepens the pool of recruits who want to play in the SEC — especially because playing in the Big 12 will lose some luster without those programs.
Q: Without naming names, if the over/under on how many of the three scholarship QBs + Horn will be on the roster for the first game next year is 2.5, what is your prediction? - Mike Korte, @DonKortleone
A: I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one quarterback transfers after the season. No telling on who that will be, if it happens at all. But the math is pretty simple — and it’s hard to keep four scholarship quarterbacks content in any program. Mizzou better hope it’s only one because you want to have at least three on the roster in 2022.
Q: I like Conner and really hope he succeeds, but it does appear he's hurt and that it may be slowing him down. Do you know if it's a lack of knowledge, chemistry, or execution that's keeping Macon/Cook on the bench? As to Macon, could it be related to redshirt? - chris Williams, @cjw3477
A: Bazelak is absolutely hurt physically. It’s a soft tissue injury in his leg. (Drinkwitz and Bazelak have been vague on the details, but strained hamstring is what I’ve heard.) I highly doubt it’s a redshirt concern for Macon. He’s appeared in three games (SEMO, Vanderbilt, Georgia). They could have played him against South Carolina and still preserved his redshirt. They believed Cook was the better option — because he had been practicing with the top unit that week, along with Bazelak. Cook is clearly the more advanced passer compared to Macon. Last month, Drinkwitz noted that Macon’s “knowledge of the playbook and repetition of schemes” weren’t at the level where he wanted. So, why Bazelak over Cook? Drinkwitz clearly values Bazelak’s experience and overall ability even if he’s compromised by the injury.
This is a trend with the head coach if you pay attention to the snaps. Last year, it was hard for Tyler Badie to get on the field. Drinkwitz went with Rountree, who was more experienced as a primary running back. This year, the young receivers can barely get on the field. He’s played Dove, Chism and Banister almost exclusively here lately. Late in the season, pivotal games, crunch time, close contests, he defers to his most experienced players — even if they might have less upside athletically than younger, less experienced options. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but sometimes it’s natural to stick with the player whom you already trust over the player who hasn’t earned that.
Q: Does the improvement in the defense earn coach Wilks another year, or will Drink look to make a change? Also, does he deserve another year? #Mizzou - Stl MIZ, @Trock23
A: I expect him back unless the defense completely unravels in the next two games to the point where Drinkwitz doesn’t believe it can be salvaged. Now that things are clicking, the last thing you want to do is start over from scratch with a new coordinator, new scheme, new terminology, new everything — especially if all the newness led to the early struggles in the first place. Go back to that quote from Manuel. He’s the defensive team captain. That’s a pretty strong endorsement for Wilks to return. Plus, we haven’t even gotten into the financial piece. Mizzou doesn’t have millions lying around to pay buyouts and pay for new coordinators.
Here’s a staggering stat: MU’s average home attendance was 46,516 this season. That’s the lowest in nearly 25 years. Attendance was down 14% from 2019, Odom’s final season. Smaller crowds means less ticket revenue, less parking revenue, less hot dog revenue, less beer, jerseys, etc.
Q: Birmingham Bowl vs. Independence Bowl — Matt Johnson, @guntuck1
A: The Independence Bowl is no longer affiliated with the SEC, so I wouldn’t expect a fourth trip to Shreveport in 18 years. I touched on the bowl options earlier this week. Any one of the SEC pool of six bowls could be an option: Liberty, Texas, Outback, Gator, Music City or Duke’s Mayo. From there, the next two options are Birmingham or Gasparilla. I wouldn’t mind the Gasparilla. That’s in Tampa at the Bucs’ stadium. It has conference affiliations with eight different leagues — everyone in the Power 5 except the Big Ten — so no telling who the opponent would be for now.
Q: Two-part question for 2022 season: QB starter in first game? Early prediction on SEC East final standings? - Jim Turner,@JimTurner24
A: I’ll go with Bazelak. Sam Horn will come in and compete with whoever else is on the roster, but a healthy Bazelak gets the nod. Tough to project the standings when we don’t know who’s coaching Florida or which players are leaving for the NFL or entering the transfer portal. Georgia will rule the SEC East until someone else comes close to knocking them off. I like what Josh Heupel has done at Tennessee. The roster is still thin, but I’ll put the Vols ahead of the field if Hendon Hooker returns. Then there’s Kentucky, Missouri, Florida, South Carolina and Vandy. Shane Beamer did a great job with the Gamecocks, but I like the upside of the other programs more for 2022. Keep in mind, we have no idea who will be coaching Florida or who plays QB. They should have enough talent to finish fourth in this division, but you never know.