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With offense struggling, Missouri has competition for starter at right guard

by News Tribune | September 13, 2023 at 12:15 a.m.
Missouri running back Nathaniel Peat tries to break away from Middle Tennessee safety Jakobe Thomas during last Saturday’s game at Faurot Field in Columbia. (Associated Press)

COLUMBIA -- After struggling to protect quarterback Brady Cook against Middle Tennessee, the Missouri Tigers are looking at other options.

“I think we gotta create competition at the right guard position and see if we can improve at that spot,” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said during his Tuesday press conference. “There are some issues there that gotta continue to be addressed.”

Missouri allowed four sacks in a game where pressure kept the Tigers from attempting the deep passes they were hoping for.

Indicative of the issue was the first time Missouri made it into the red zone, which ended with a field goal after the Tigers had a holding, a false start and a sack on three consecutive plays.

Houston transfer junior Cam’Ron Johnson (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) started the first two weeks at right guard, but Drinkwitz said Eastern Michigan graduate transfer Marcellus Johnson (6-4, 307), freshman Logan Reichert (6-6, 369) and junior EJ Ndoma-Ogar (6-3, 335) will all get opportunities to compete for the spot.

Drinkwitz said the other spots on the line, while having room to improve, have impressed him.

“Those guys have been incredibly consistent, their pad level has been really good,” Drinkwitz said. “I think they do their job at a high level. Obviously the negative was the sack on Javon (Foster) and that was more of a product of over analyzing a situation. … I don’t make too much of that, I think that’s a learning point.

“I was really proud, still have been really proud of Connor (Tollison), I think Armand (Membou) showed a lot of growth from Week 1 to Week 2, not only in his fundamentals, but in his stance and his mentality, his execution. I think we’re growing. We’ve just got to get all five of us on the same page, competing together. Five acting as one.”

The early protection issues have been part of a combination of issues that have led to a lack of explosive plays the Tigers were expecting in their new Kirby Moore-led offense.

Drinkwitz said as those issues get worked out, the Tiger offense should get moving better.

“From some protection issues, misread by the quarterback, maybe a missed route, maybe not being on the same time,” Drinkwitz said. “I think we had an opportunity in the first quarter (against Middle Tennessee), the ball could have been thrown further or Luther (Burden) can make the catch … We had a couple of shots dialed up where we didn’t get the protection we needed. It’s a combination and 19 opportunities is not enough to create explosive plays.”

The lack of protection and a final drive losing 18 yards on the final three plays added to the overall rushing statistics not looking like a highlight (46 attempts for 112 yards), but Drinkwitz said looking back the rushing game wasn’t one of the main issues Saturday.

An issue coming out of the run game was not getting Nathaniel Peat enough touches.

“I didn’t go back and look at the run game necessarily and think it was a negative, because the sacks are factored into it and the negative-yardage plays are factored into it,” Drinkwitz said. “I think we have to get Nate Peat more involved. When we were running our tempo plays, I think Nate was doing a really good job of being explosive there. … But I think we have to just continue to identify the boxes that we can run into and diversify our run game a little bit.”

But with 46 rushing attempts and only 19 passing plays, Drinkwitz said there needs to be more of a focus on airing the ball out to open up the field and create more opportunities. That would most likely involve moving through passing progressions more, with Luther Burden catching 15 passes for 213 yards and the rest of the pass catchers combining for 19 catches for 217.

Theo Wease and Mookie Cooper seem to be the most likely candidates for additional targets, with Wease catching a touchdown Saturday.

“Theo has been a guy that has proven himself in fall camp in 1-on-1 matchups and obviously did that down in the red zone creating a contested catch on a high ball and making sure he secured it,” Drinkwitz said.

“I think the thing about Mookie that’s so good for us is his position flexibility,” Drinkwitz added. “He’s a senior who knows all four positions and can play any of them at the drop of a hat. But he is an explosive player and we have to get the ball in his hands.”

Missouri will work in its changes as the Tigers take on their toughest opponent of the pre-SEC schedule, taking on No. 15 Kansas State at home at 11 a.m. Saturday in front of a sold-out Faurot Field.


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