Mizzou Tigers starting quarterback spot up for grabs ahead of Armed Forces Bowl

·4 min read

The last several weeks of the regular season for the Missouri Tigers were filled with uncertainty at the quarterback position.

Starter Connor Bazelak exited an Oct. 30 game against Vanderbilt with an injury, leaving backups Brady Cook and Tyler Macon to split reps the following week against Georgia. Bazelak, who has struggled with turnovers, was benched for Cook twice in the fourth quarter since his return, including at the end of the last contest at Arkansas.

Now as the team prepares to play in the Armed Forces Bowl against Army on Dec. 22, the quarterback competition is wide open. Coach Eliah Drinkwitz said on Sunday that any of the three quarterbacks could start.

“Whoever we feel like gives us the best chance to win and move our football team is going to play in the bowl game,” Drinkwitz said. “And so, we have a little bit of time for that competition to develop and play out.”

The Tigers had two practices over the weekend to focus on player development, even before knowing their bowl game opponent. Bazelak, Cook and Macon all had opportunities to play with the first team and Drinkwitz put an emphasis on getting each of them chances in different scenarios, such as open field, red zone and end of game. He said it was a “100% open competition.”

“It’s really hard to have a quarterback competition during the season because those practices are usually more versus scout teams and you don’t have extended reps versus the defense, and so you’re not getting live reps to see who’s more prepared,” Drinkwitz said. “So now we’ve got more reps to do that, more opportunities to evaluate our guys, demonstrate leadership and competitiveness.”

These next few weeks offer an opportunity for players up and down the roster to develop. In practices this weekend, Mizzou focused on helping players improve through individual skill work, fundamentals and technique. Drinkwitz compared it more to spring or fall camp than a normal in-season practice because the Tigers could just focus on themselves.

“It was really nice just to get a lot of individual periods, to get with Coach [DJ] Smith and focus on some technique things that we haven’t been able to hit in a while,” linebacker Blaze Alldredge said. “I personally felt like I was able to get better as a player this weekend.”

The coaching staff will have to balance bowl game preparation with recruiting ahead of the start of the early national signing period on Dec. 15. And they’ll do so down a staff member in tight ends coach/recruiting Casey Woods, who left to take an offensive coordinator position at SMU and will not be replaced until after the bowl game.

Right after talking with the media late Sunday afternoon, Drinkwitz hopped on a plane for another in-home visit. He said he was flying across the country to recruit every day this past week.

Some coaches will be out of town this upcoming week to recruit, but the ones who are in town will get in individual practice work with players. Players will also have weight-lifting sessions. They’ll have two developmental practices next weekend and coaches will scout during the Army-Navy game Saturday before the focus shifts to academic finals. The week after that will be dedicated to specifically preparing for Army, which is known for its triple option offense.

“We’re going to work extremely hard,” Drinkwitz said. “I know tackling, turnovers and penalties are really the three keys that you have to focus on. Sloppy play gets you beat in bowl games. And specifically against a very good Army team who capitalizes on time of possession and capitalizes on their possession. So we’re gonna have to play a cleaner football game than we’ve been playing.”

Much of limiting turnovers and playing a cleaner football game comes down to the leader under center. For now, that spot is completely up for grabs.

“I’ve got full confidence in whatever Coach [Drinkwitz’s] decision is for whatever quarterback,” Alldredge said. “I know those guys are going to put the work in over these next 17 days and they’re going to be ready and they’re going to give us their best.”

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