COLUMBIA, Mo. – The return of starting quarterback Connor Bazelak should give Missouri an edge Saturday in its season-opening home game against Central Michigan.
When: 4:00 PM ET, Saturday, September 4, 2021
Where: Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium, Columbia, Missouri
TV: SEC Network
Bazelak completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 236.6 yards a game with seven touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last season as the Tigers finished 5-5.
But Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz noted that past results won’t guarantee future gains, especially when the Tigers get into Southeastern Conference play.
“I mean, I’m confident he’ll catch the snap,” Drinkwitz quipped. “But we’ll find out. He didn’t have to play in front of a lot of fans last year, so he’s got a whole new set of issues.
“Last year, not a lot of pressure coming in. Now he’s had a whole offseason of everyone telling him how good he is and patting him on the back, so we’ll find out how much Kool-Aid he drank and how much focus he has.”
Central Michigan enters this nonconference game in Columbia, Mo., with a murkier quarterback scenario and the status of coach Jim McElwain unclear after an emergency appendectomy on Wednesday.
McElwain underwent surgery and appears unlikely to be on the sideline. Assistant coach Tim Skipper is running the team.
As for the quarterbacks, the Chippewas have sophomore Jacob Sirmon, redshirt freshman Daniel Richardson and true freshman Tyler Pape competing for the job.
Richardson started four games as Central Michigan finished 3-3 last year in their shortened Mid-American Conference season. Sirmon is a transfer from Washington, where he backed up for two years.
Complicating Central Michigan’s offensive challenge is the loss of top running back Kobe Lewis to a preseason knee injury.
“You’re not only losing a great player and an explosive player, a guy who can make plays and help you win, but you’re losing a great leader, a guy that is really valuable in that locker room,” McElwain said.
The injury puts the running game in the hands of Lew Nicholls III, who averaged 6.5 yards a carry while rushing for a team-high 508 yards last season with four touchdowns. Also, backup Darius Bracy will get plenty of work, since Nicholls and Lewis were expected to share the primary carries as they did last year.
“It puts that load a little bit on Bracy and obviously Lew Nicholls to be leaders in that group,” McElwain said. “There’s a sense of urgency now because we don’t have Kobe to rely on.”
Injured Missouri receiver Jay Maclin is out for this game and receiver Mookie Cooper is questionable. Defensive back Jaylon Carlies will sit out the first half with a carryover suspension for a targeting penalty last season.
The Tigers’ offensive line remains in flux, and the team’s new defensive scheme will get its first test under new coordinator Steve Wilks.
“I feel very comfortable with the scheme that we’re trying to install and I feel like our defense is comfortable in what we’re asking them to do and the rules or the adjustments that they have,” Drinkwitz said. “But we haven’t been tested by fire yet.”