COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz's plan for his quarterbacks in the season opener against South Dakota on Thursday night was to play returning starter Brady Cook in the first half and give redshirt freshman Sam Horn the second half.
The plan next week? Drinkwitz wasn't sure after a 35-10 win over the Coyotes.
Cook threw for 172 yards and a touchdown while running for another score in his half, leading the Tigers to a 28-3 lead. Horn threw for 54 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception in a sluggish second half, though one the young QB was able to salvage with his scoring toss to dynamic wide receiver Luther Burden III in the closing minutes.
“Brady played a more consistent half,” Drinkwitz admitted. “We'll go back and evaluate the tape. I'm not going to make a rush judgment there on that decision. I do think Brady was very efficient. Sam had his moments as well.”
The two QBs, who competed for the top job throughout the fall, got plenty of help from their ground game. Cody Schrader ran for 148 yards and a touchdown, and Nathaniel Peat also scored for the Tigers, who finished with 211 yards rushing.
“Everybody wants there to be a one-guy, a two-guy, but we're buying into being a duo,” Schrader said. “There's no selfishness between us. I think that's the best thing when you're competing against each other every day.”
The Coyotes' Aidan Bouman had 156 yards passing with a fourth-quarter touchdown toss to Mike Mansaray.
The Tigers were inconsistent for new offensive coordinator Kirby Moore, who also called plays after Drinkwitz gave up the job midway through last season. They punted on fourth-and-short on their initial drive, then proceeded to score on four of their next five, capping an efficient 2-minute drill with Cook's touchdown run for a 28-3 halftime advantage.
Cook was efficient in his own right, though. After coming off a shoulder injury that bothered him most of last season, Cook completed his first 11 passes with a TD throw to Mekhi Miller that staked Missouri to an early lead.
“We could put anybody out there to play quarterback. At the end of the day, Brady just wants to win,” Drinkwitz said. “That guy has so much character, so much grit, so much determination."
The Tigers' ground game got going after Cook's touchdown throw. Peat pounded into the end zone from 1 yard out to make it 14-0, and Schrader added a short TD plunge of his own — his sixth consecutive carry on the drive — to make it 21-3.
It didn’t help the Coyotes that they played most of the game without safety Dennis Shorter, one of their leading tacklers a year ago. He was ejected for targeting on a helmet-to-helmet blow to Burden after a catch over the middle.
South Dakota's new-look offense of coordinator Josh Davis finally showed signs of life in the second half.
The Coyotes went three-and-out on their first three possessions, totaled five yards of offense in the first quarter and had one sustained first-half drive that ended in a field goal. But they put together a 17-play drive to begin the second — it ended with a failed fourth down — and then took advantage of an interception to score their lone touchdown with 12:14 to go.
“Not a good first half, you know? We gave them some soft yards and offensively we just couldn't get anything going,” South Dakota coach Bob Nielson said. “We played better in the third period. I was really proud of the way our guys hung in there.”
South Dakota: There were some building blocks against the toughest competition the Coyotes will face all season. Bouman made a couple of nice second-half throws and the Coyotes' defense nearly pitched a second-half shutout. “Saw some good things in the second half that we’ve got to build on,” Nielson said, “and we have a week and a little bit more to build on them.”
Missouri: It was a tough night for the Tigers on special teams. Their only big return was called back by a penalty and Harrison Mevis, who had been 85% for his career on field-goal attempts, missed both of his tries against the Coyotes. “Disappointed with leaving some points out there,” Drinkwitz said. “That's something that has to get corrected in a hurry.”
South Dakota: Plays its home opener Sept. 9 against St. Thomas.
Missouri: Takes on Middle Tennessee on Sept. 9 at Faurot Field.