Mizzou football 2021 position breakdown: Quarterback

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune
Missouri head football coach Eli Drinkwitz watches as quarterback Connor Bazelak (8) throws during practice March 16 at the Kadlec Practice Fields.

Missouri football begins its 2021 football season three months from Friday at home against Central Michigan

The Tigers' first nonconference game in nearly two years will begin a campaign with rising expectations in Columbia. 

As Missouri's first kickoff of the season inches closer, we'll break down each position group for the Tigers and look ahead to how those players could perform this fall. 

Up first is one of the easiest to diagnose — quarterback. 

Heading into head coach Eli Drinkwitz's first season guiding the Tigers, who started behind center was arguably the biggest preseason question he had to answer. 

Shawn Robinson and Connor Bazelak emerged as the top two, with Robinson, a former five-star recruit and TCU transfer, starting the first two games of the season. 

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After a lackadaisical first quarter in Missouri's second game against Tennessee, Bazelak permanently took the reins of the Tiger offense and never looked back. 

Bazelak started the final eight games of the season as Missouri's signal caller. He quickly showed a pocket presence beyond his years, but passed for only seven touchdowns compared to six interceptions last year.  

The Dayton, Ohio, native recorded a completion percentage of 67% and 2,366 passing yards en route to being named co-SEC freshman of the year

Bazelak's spot is easily cemented heading into this fall as Missouri's starting quarterback. While talented options exist alongside him, there's no way Bazelak sits if he's healthy. 

Missouri head football coach Eli Drinkwitz talks with quarterback Connor Bazelak (8) during a Southeastern Conference game against Alabama on Sept. 26 at Faurot Field.

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The Tigers went 5-3 in games Bazelak started in 2020, with two of those losses coming to teams that appeared in the New Year's Six (Georgia and Florida). The other defeat was Missouri's season finale to Mississippi State, where the Tigers' roster was heavily depleted.

Bazelak had so much success running the offense that Drinkwitz gave Robinson the option to move to safety, which he hadn't played since grade school. Robinson now wears No. 12 and remains part of the defense. 

Robinson's early signs at defensive back were positive too, making an interception against Mississippi State last December. 

Bazelak has had an interesting journey in Columbia

Bazelak's journey in Columbia has been an interesting one overall. He was the third-string option in 2019 behind Kelly Bryant and Taylor Powell and saw action in three games. 

His lone start of his true freshman season came in Barry Odom's final game as Tigers head coach against Arkansas. Bazelak had a dynamic first quarter, but tore his right ACL in the second quarter. 

Bazelak recovered in time for the start of fall camp but was sporting a knee brace. His mobility wasn't a big factor in his performance last season, as Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie shouldered the load of the Missouri run attack. 

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This spring, Drinkwitz said his goals for Bazelak's improvement included developing the deep passing game, his aggressiveness and deep-ball accuracy.

While Missouri has brought in players such as Mookie Cooper and Dominic Lovett to help stretch the field vertically, wide receivers' downfield abilities greatly depend on having a quarterback who can deliver them the ball in stride.

"I think there's still definitely areas of improvement," Drinkwitz said of Bazelak after the team's final spring practice March 25. "... The challenge for us now is for those guys on their own, since we can't be out there with them with a football, for Connor to really continue to build that chemistry with those wide receivers. But I think we're off to a good start. I think that we will see fruits of that labor. But there's still a long four-month process for that to develop."

During the spring game, Bazelak put his improved arm strength on display with a deep ball caught by Tauskie Dove. That throw needed to be spot-on as Dove was well-covered by a defensive back, but a solid effort on both ends completed the pass. 

The long completion was similar to a play from Missouri's loss to Florida last October, which resulted in an incompletion. 

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As for Missouri's other options at quarterback, Brady Cook figures to serve as the Tigers' backup after playing in the No. 3 role last year. Tyler Macon, a true freshman, enters the quarterback room after a stellar prep career at East St. Louis. Another option for MU would be walk-on Jack Samsel. 

However, there's no doubt Bazelak is Missouri's starter at the most critical position on the field. If he improves, there's a good chance Missouri will raise its standards.

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

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