Time’s arrow marches only forward.
A loss to Michigan and subsequent exclusion from the College Football Playoff is a wrong that can’t be righted or undone by Ohio State. All that remains is for the Buckeyes to press on into their Cotton Bowl matchup with No. 9 Missouri.
Missouri is a 10-2 squad that has climbed the ranks of the SEC after a string of subpar seasons dating back almost a decade. The Tigers pose a significant threat offensively through two star players and do enough defensively to compete.
A strong challenge to close the 2023 campaign should await Ohio State in Arlington, Texas.
This year marked Missouri’s first 10-win season since 2014, the first year of the College Football Playoff. That campaign the Tigers went 11-3 with a loss in the SEC Championship Game but a win in the Citrus Bowl over Minnesota.
Six of Missouri’s eight seasons since have featured somewhere between five and seven wins, with the outliers being a four-win 2016 and an eight-win 2018. Otherwise, it’s been firmly entrenched in the middle of the pack during the eight seasons prior to this one.
The Tigers’ most impressive wins of 2023 came against then-No. 15 Kansas State, No. 24 Kentucky and No. 13 Tennessee. Tennessee finished 21st in the final CFP poll while Kansas State was 25th and Kentucky unranked.
Missouri played both No. 7 Georgia and No. 13 LSU tight in the Tigers’ lone two losses, leading in the second half of both games before ultimately falling 30-21 to Georgia and 49-39 to LSU.
Overall, it’s been a breakthrough season for Missouri head coach Eliah Drinkwitz, now in his fourth season in Columbia. His first three campaigns hovered around .500, going 5-5 in 2020, 6-7 in 2021 and 6-7 in 2022.
A Burden for defenses
Much of Missouri’s offense is driven by two star skill-position players, and the first is sophomore wide receiver Luther Burden III.
A semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award – given annually to the best pass catcher in college football – alongside Ohio State wideout Marvin Harrison Jr. (who has since been named a finalist), Burden racked up 83 receptions for 1,197 yards and eight touchdowns for the Tigers in the regular season. He also serves as the team’s punt returner with eight returns for 70 yards this year.
Burden finished high school as a five-star recruit, the No. 1 receiver and No. 3 prospect overall in the 247Sports composite rankings. He was committed to Oklahoma for 10 months before decommitting in August 2021 and pledging to the Tigers in October that same year. Ohio State offered and recruited Burden but was unable to secure his services.
Quarterback Brady Cook is the man who gets Burden the ball in Missouri’s 30th-ranked passing offense. Cook has completed 66.4% of his passes for 3,189 yards and 20 touchdowns against six interceptions this year.
Schrader the shredder
The second major skill-position piece for Missouri is running back Cody Schrader.
Mizzou’s team rushing numbers for the season aren’t great – the Tigers are 53rd nationally in rushing yards per game and 43rd in yards per carry – but Schrader’s numbers individually sure are.
Schrader is No. 3 in the nation for rushing yards with 1,499, and he’s accumulated those gains at an efficient clip of 6.1 yards per carry. He’s accounted for 72.3% of Missouri’s total rushing yards by himself, adding 13 touchdowns on the ground.
Cook also provides something of a rushing threat, picking up 253 yards with eight rushing touchdowns to keep defenses from only keying on Schrader in the run game.
Defense is decent
Statistically, Missouri possesses an above-average defensive unit for Ohio State to move the ball against on Dec. 29.
The Tigers rank 41st in scoring defense, 39th in total defense and 34th in rushing yards allowed per game. Their pass defense – at 62nd overall across college football – lags back a step from those other metrics.
Defensive end Darius Robinson poses the biggest threat up front, collecting a team-high 12 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks to go alongside 41 tackles in total with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the regular season. Middle linebacker Chuck Hicks also makes a habit of getting into opposing backfields, racking up 49 tackles with 10 tackles for loss and two sacks on the year.
Strong safety Joseph Charleston is the team’s leading tackler, collecting 60 takedowns with four pass breakups in 2023.
The top player to watch in Missouri’s secondary is cornerback Kris Abrams-Draine, who’s hauled in a team-high four interceptions to go with a team-high 12 PBUs, throwing in 47 tackles for good measure.
First-ever bowl meeting
This year’s Cotton Bowl marks the first-ever postseason matchup between Ohio State and Missouri.
The Buckeyes and Tigers have met 10 times previously, all during scheduled regular-season action. Ohio State is 9-1 in the series all-time and won both sides of a home-and-home in 1997 and ’98 during the programs’ most recent clash.
Missouri’s lone win over Ohio State dates back to the Woody Hayes days in 1976, when the Tigers took down the Buckeyes 22-21 in Columbus.
Ohio State will hope to improve that series record to 10-1 and take home a New Year’s Six bowl trophy when it faces Missouri at 8 p.m. on Dec. 29.