Mookie Cooper runs down the field with the ball against

Mookie Cooper runs down the field with the ball against Central Michigan on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Columbia. After a lackluster showing in the opening game, Cooper hopes to make improvements against Kentucky.

Before lining up against Central Michigan, wide receiver Mookie Cooper hadn’t played in a game since the state championship in his junior year of high school.

The Missouri wide receiver, a redshirt freshman, had a quiet day in his Tigers debut, which was put into question prior to the game because of a lingering foot injury from fall camp. He had four receptions for a total gain of 12 yards, far from the output MU wanted out of its blockbuster transfer.

Cooper said the foot has been getting better day by day, and it might just have to be with Kentucky on the horizon.

Tigers coach Eliah Drinkwitz said Wednesday that Missouri is “nowhere near ready” to take on its SEC East rival on the road.

It was a quiet day for all of the wideouts against CMU. The group left plenty on the field, as Cooper said he was uncomfortable chasing downfield routes and had to use the game to get a feel for playing again. Connor Bazelak was 21 of 32 through the air for 257 passing yards. Take out running back Tyler Badie, and Missouri’s total receiving yards falls to 217 yards on 18 receptions. That includes a 63-yard dime to D’ionte Smith on the first snap of the game.

To whom does the buck fall?

“It doesn’t fall on one particular person,” graduate receiver Keke Chism said. “It’s 11 guys on the field out there on third down, so if the offense isn’t converting, then we’re all at fault there.”

There was one statistic from Saturday that Chism called “alarming”: The Tigers were 2 of 12 on third-down completions.

“That’s not gonna win you very many football games in the SEC,” he said. “Especially on the road, you’ve gotta be able to keep drives going and you’ve gotta be able to put up points in the red zone.”

One of the sure fire ways to improve the stats is to leave fewer third-and-long situations.

Of the Tigers’ 12 third downs, two were fewer than 8 yards to complete. Eight of them were 10 yards or longer.

“It’s probably my play designs,” Drinkwitz said after the game Saturday. “I’ve got to do a better job of giving the quarterback options. That’s on me.”

Improvement will need to come quick. Kentucky has the top-ranked defense in the nation after Week 1. The Wildcats’ opening-week opponent was UL Monroe, which didn’t hold a lead in a game throughout the entirety of the 2020 season, but the stats will still give the Tigers cause for concern.

In 63 plays, the Wildcats gave up 87 yards. That averages out at 1.38 yards per play. Eleven of the Warhawks’ total yards came through the air.

If Missouri is to give the Kentucky defense its first bout of anxiety of the season, the Tigers’ wide receivers will be crucial.

One positive will be that Cooper is feeling better.

“My foot don’t hurt,” he said. ... “I was out for a little minute, it’s just now getting my range of motion all the way back, and just being back comfortable playing fast.”

But a better week from one player is unlikely to get the job done this time around. Missouri is going to require much more from all of the wideouts, and indeed all of the offensive unit.

“We’ve all got to look at ourselves in the mirror and find ways that each individual can improve so ultimately our offense can be successful,” Chism said.

  • Assistant sports editor for Spring 2021. Reach me at mcandrewcalum@gmail.com, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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