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Missouri Football Notebook: Tigers look to bounce back vs. ACU

Going into the week three matchup versus Abilene Christian, Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz seemed to be in a positive mood on Tuesday, ready to put the lopsided 40-12 loss to Kansas State behind him.

The theme for the Tigers this week seems to be "a new opportunity for growth," after the shellacking the Wildcats gave the Tigers last week. The Tigers hear the fans and their groans and complaints about the team on social media, and it appears that Drinkwitz and the Tigers are choosing to ignore the negativity.

"I think again, it's an opportunity for us to grow and put the things that are behind us -- behind us and move on to the future. And that's really all you can control. So, I think that's the focus of our team," Drinkwitz said.

The Tigers know they got beat in every aspect of the game and Drinkwitz and defensive coordinator Blake Baker both said that there were a lot of moments where the units on the field weren't playing as one which is why the Tigers played sloppily against their former Big 12 foe.

"Yeah, there were a lot of inconsistencies. It was a lot of 11 people not being on the same page," Drinkwitz said.

The offense played similarly to how the defense played last season. Despite, the defense keeping the Tigers in the game for the duration of the third quarter the Tigers couldn't muster any offense.

That was a familiar theme for the Tigers' defense last season. The offense would find a way to put up points or stay in the game only for the defense to put up no resistance. The tables turned on the offense versus Kansas State, and the Tigers are trying to show they can handle how they respond after an early season blowout.

Historically, in the Drinkwitz era, Missouri is 5-3 in games coming off of a loss of 14 points or more. Although the Tigers' week three opponent is out of the FCS it almost feels that they have to come back and not only win but dominate.

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What we know about Abilene Christian

Through the first two weeks of the 2022 college football season the saying "any given Saturday" has rung true over and over again. No one could've predicted Marshall upsetting Notre Dame on the road or Appalachian State going to College Station and beating Texas A&M but it happened.

The Tigers aren't looking at their week four matchup against Auburn yet (at least that's what they've said), and they shouldn't be. The Wildcats run a lot of 11 (one running back and one tight end) and 12 ( one running back and two tight ends) personnel sets. They have a gunslinger at quarterback in Maverick McIvor who looked pretty decent in the Wildcats' season opener versus Lamar. He went 22 of 38 for 258 yards and a pair of touchdowns. One of the touchdown passes was perfectly thrown over the top of the defense for a score in the back right corner of the endzone.

Like most gunslingers, McIvor isn't afraid to throw the ball up which was evident in week two versus Prairie View A&M when he threw three first-half interceptions. He did, however, lead two fourth-quarter drives to help the Wildcats get a comeback 21-13 win.

They have a wide receiver and punt returner in Kendall Catalon, who is the brother of Arkansas safety Jalen Catalon. He is twitchy and has decent speed.

The Wildcats' defense runs multiple defenses but they run the 4-2-5 set that is becoming used more frequently at the college level. Drinkwitz noted that they run an odd three-safety set that the Tigers struggled with at Kansas State.

  Possible change in special teams  

Drinkwitz was insistent that Kris Abrams-Draine would be manning punt and kickoff return duty despite having Luther Burden III on the roster.

So far this season, Abrams-Draine has returned three kickoffs for 53 yards (17.7 yards per return) and has not returned a punt. In week two, Kansas State was able to land a pair of punts inside the 20-yard-line because Abrams-Draine didn't field the punts.

Burden returned eight punts for touchdowns in his senior season at East St. Louis.

On Tuesday, Drinkwitz noted that some competition at the punt returning position would happen and that is what happened. Abrams-Draine, Burden, recent Miami transfer Marcus Clarke and Dominic Lovett were fielding punts during practice.

It doesn't mean Abrams-Draine will not be manning punts and kickoffs, it's just that it's more likely that there will be a rotation of players. Although, Burden should be getting the opportunity -- not to mention it's a good time to get the ball in his hands

What happened and what's going to change for Cook and Burden

Last week, was not Brady Cook's best performance. In fact, it was the worst of his career. He completed 15 of 27 passes for 128 yards and two interceptions on consecutive drives.

He was throwing behind receivers, overthrowing receivers, and everything in between, which led to him getting benched for Jack Abraham at one point.

"I need to have better footwork in the pocket, my drops are way too rushed, I need to be more accurate, make plays down the field and connect with my star receivers," Cook said. "Tauskie Dove told us we need to have two chips on our shoulder. It's a big week. ... I know I have a lot of chips on my shoulder, so I'm practicing my butt off and the team is and we're fired up."

So, Cook outlined what happened and what needs to happen versus Abilene Christian. He should have a big day on Saturday, and it probably won't mean as much facing an FCS opponent but it will be something to build on. There's an obvious feeling that Cook and the offense as a whole need to get its problems on the field situated before they face conference opponents.

"I told everybody we can't let this be the end of the world, end of the season. Let's watch the tape," Cook said. "Let's correct it, and let's come out and build some chemistry against Abilene Christian."

One of Cook's "star receivers" as he called them is Luther Burden III, who had just two touches on Saturday. A rush for six yards and a reception for three yards on four targets were the extent of his production.

When it comes to getting Burden the ball less isn't more. More is more, and that hsn't eluded Drinkwitz. With the dynamism that Burden showed just two weeks ago versus Louisiana Tech, there is no reason for him to not be getting at least eight touches a game.

"Yeah, I've got to balance the expectations of the external noise and the realities of what we need to put on him," Drinkwitz said. "And Luther is a competitor and he is a good football player and we certainly need to do a better job of creating touches for him."

Now, Burden wasn't perfect on Saturday, he dropped a pass on a drag route close to the line of scrimmage and possibly had a big touchdown on a play where he beat the defender but it appeared the pass was a little overthrown and that Burden could've tried harder to reel in the pass.

The five-star freshman said he is still getting acclimated to this level and noticed the change of pace from week one to week two.

"It's a learning curve, especially playing in the SEC and I'm still continuing to get better," Burden said. "I definitely did (see the game speed up). Kansas State played very physical, faster and uptempo. So, it was definitely different from Lousiana Tech."

When it comes to not having any more games as they did versus Kansas State, Burden said the offense has to do its part and put up points, and that he will continue to try and get open and get in the right spots, so Cook can get him the ball.

The Tigers are feeling confident that they can do things well and rebound versus Abilene Christian, but you can't help but feel the team knows the real test starts Sept. 24 on the road against Auburn.

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