Press Box: Missouri football is giving Tiger fans reason to celebrate

Missouri running back Cody Schrader exults in front of the crowd after the Tigers defeated South Carolina on Saturday at Faurot Field in Columbia. (Associated Press)
Missouri running back Cody Schrader exults in front of the crowd after the Tigers defeated South Carolina on Saturday at Faurot Field in Columbia. (Associated Press)

Homecoming is a time to reminisce on good times. But don’t let those memories cloud the good times as they are happening.

Because right now, it’s a good time to be a Missouri Tiger fan.

After the Tigers’ 34-12 Homecoming win against South Carolina, Missouri sits at 7-1 for the first time since 2013 and heads into a bye week with an extra few days to prepare to face No. 1 Georgia.

The Tigers are set to raise in the Associated Press Top 25 from their spot at 20 this week, which was already the highest ranking Missouri had since being No. 14 in 2015.

Coach Eli Drinkwitz won a seventh game for the first time in his Tiger tenure and the program got win No. 700, but it’s not just the overall success that makes this team worth appreciating, it’s how it has come about.

The Tigers can win through the air, as they did with 300-yard passing performances from Brady Cook against Kansas State, Memphis and Vanderbilt. They can win on the ground, as they did in setting a season-high team rushing total of 220 yards against South Carolina, with a Missouri-career-high 159 from Cody Schrader.

They can win with defense as they also showed against South Carolina, holding the Gamecocks without a touchdown.

And they are just, overall, a fun team.

The Tigers create explosive plays on offense in both the passing game and the rushing game, both represented in the Homecoming matchup with a 42-yard touchdown early to Luther Burden and three rushing touchdowns of more than 10 yards. They create major plays on defense as they totaled six sacks, eight tackles for loss and an interception, while holding the Gamecocks to just 3-of-13 on third down.

And clearly the fans have bought in, selling out three consecutive home games.

“Really appreciative of the crowd,” Drinkwitz said. “They were just unbelievable, what a very energetic atmosphere. I thought the students were unbelievable.”

But coach Drinkwitz, has this team hit its potential yet?

“No, not even kind of,” Drinkwitz said. “We’ve seen flashes of it, but we haven’t put it all together.”

And along with that further development this season, the Tigers are set up for the future.

Burden is one of the best receivers in the country and has another season before he is eligible to leave for the draft. Cook is a junior, receiver Theo Wease has another year of eligibility, receiver Mookie Cooper is a junior and explosive deep threat Marquis Johnson is a true freshman, as are tight ends Brett Norfleet and Jordon Harris, who both have had flashes of high-level potential this season.

Let alone what’s coming down the pike.

Five-star commit Williams Nwaneri is the top defensive lineman in the country according to Rivals and the fourth overall recruit at any position. He’s committed to stay in state to play for Missouri, while the Tigers will learn this week if they are keeping Ryan Wingo, the No. 4 receiver in the country according to Rivals, in the state to join that possibly top-tier receiving core.

They have an offensive coordinator able to turn a middling, nonexplosive offense into one that averages more than 30 points per game almost instantly, and a defensive coordinator who was able to turn a bottom-tier defense into one in the top half of the SEC last season.

“Why stop now?” Drinkwitz asked.

Why indeed? Because that’s not even talking about basketball, where coach Dennis Gates was able to excite the Tiger fan base a couple of weeks into his first season with the addition of a number of experienced players through the transfer portal and the elevation of high-level talent in Kobe Brown, who had clearly not reached his potential his first three years in Columbia. Then he completely changed his strategy when new transfer rules were put in place and has the top-ranked recruiting class for 2024 with five four-star recruits ready to come in for the 2024-25 season and make a huge difference.

So have a happy Homecoming, Missouri fans. Remember the great times Tiger athletics have brought you in the past, but don’t forget to look forward to the ones that are set to come soon.