Coming into the 2019 season, Missouri’s offense was the safer pick as to which side of the ball the Tigers possessed more difference-making ability.
Through six games, MU validated that hypothesis, scoring more than 30 points in each contest to build a 5-1 record.
Then, the offensive momentum disappeared, apparently vanishing somewhere on the flight to Nashville en route to a shocking loss to Vanderbilt in mid-October.
The Tigers’ offense showed signs of life in their last two games of the season, but the damage of a five-game losing streak already had been done. Missouri never came close to regaining top form, and that’s a big reason why no offensive staff members, including offensive coordinator Derek Dooley and head coach Barry Odom, will be back in Columbia in 2020.
When evaluating the offense in 2019, it feels like we’re looking at two different squads and blending them into a combined effort.
But that’s what this past season as a whole was like for Missouri: peaks and valleys.
MU established a road map to offensive success in 2017 under the guidance of then-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. With Drew Lock, now of the Denver Broncos, at quarterback, the Tigers posted a six-game winning streak to end the regular season, scoring 45 points or more in each victory.
Heupel moved to Orlando to become the head coach at Central Florida that December, but Lock, the driving force behind the success, was in place for one more season.
Lock continued his proficiency under Dooley, even with some statistical drawbacks. Yet the Tigers’ 8-4 season in 2018 — capped by a Liberty Bowl appearance — gave the impression their offensive strides were undisputed moving forward, and the first six games of 2019 only reinforced those beliefs.
Missouri was ranked No. 22 in the nation after a homecoming win over Mississippi on Oct. 12. Despite losing its season opener to Wyoming, MU scored 233 points through the first half of its schedule.
The Tigers were second in the FBS with an 11-game streak of scoring 30 points or more.
The 233 points are an impressive stat, until you realize that was nearly 77% of Missouri’s total points scored the entire season.
If Missouri had continued that pace and scored 233 more points for a season total of 466, that would’ve put the Tigers in a three-way tie for 10th in the FBS with 38.8 points per game.
Fittingly, one of the two teams Missouri would’ve been tied with was Appalachian State, coached at the time by new MU boss Eliah Drinkwitz.
Instead, Missouri’s 73 home-stretch points plummeted it to a three-way tie for 91st at 25.3 points per game along with Maryland and Duke.
In total offense, the Tigers ranked even lower at 95th in the FBS with 374.3 yards per game. The top five teams in the country in total offense are the four teams in the College Football Playoff (LSU, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State) along with Heupel’s UCF.
Individually, Missouri’s offense this year revolved around quarterback Kelly Bryant. Dooley said the Tigers’ playbook didn’t change much from Lock to Bryant, but it appears the tweaks that were made suited the Clemson graduate transfer.
But Bryant wasn’t at 100% health for the final seven-plus games of 2019, ever since a low hit he took from Troy’s Travis Sailo.
With Bryant’s mobility limited, significant portions of the playbook went out the window. The aura around the Tigers' productive offense was gone.
Statistics of the downfall were plastered all over social media — to name two, 32 straight offensive possessions without a touchdown and only one touchdown by a wide receiver in Southeastern Conference play.
Missouri ranked 74th in the FBS in passing offense with 222.6 yards per game and 75th in yards rushing per game with a 151.7 average.
The Tigers' subpar marks were the result of lapses from every position group. Only a few bright spots existed on offense after the victory over Ole Miss.
Missouri’s run game, led by Larry Rountree's 829 yards and nine touchdowns on the year, never got established in a substantive way, which allowed opposing defenses to sit back with as many as eight defensive backs at a time and ground the MU aerial attack.
To make matters worse, Bryant would still feel the pass rush at times and be sacked or forced out of the pocket. That led to plenty of punts over the final six games.
Overall, the best word to describe Missouri’s offense in 2019 is underachieving, with all proof existing in the early part of the season.
With Bryant, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, three veteran offensive linemen (Trystan Colon-Castillo, Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms and Yasir Durant) as well as receivers Johnathon Johnson and Jonathan Nance graduating or forgoing remaining eligibility to test NFL Draft waters, the Missouri offense has its work cut out for it in 2020.
Drinkwitz, who will have several talented returning players but many holes to fill, is known as an inventive play-caller who can spark a dormant offense.
Next fall is a great chance to prove that with his new scheme.