Entering the season, Missouri appeared to have a bona fide go-to wide receiver in Keke Chism. The graduate student had gradually taken on a bigger role throughout the previous year; 31 of his 35 catches and 394 of his 458 yards had come over the final five games.
The 2021 Chism has posted 10 receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown in three games, one of which he played in sparingly because it was blowout against SEMO. Solid numbers, but not to the standard he showed he was capable of playing at a year ago.
Whether it’s a cause or effect of Chism’s dip in production, Missouri has displayed depth at receiver it didn’t have a year ago. Twelve players caught a pass Saturday against SEMO, including three who hauled in their first career touchdowns.
“I tease (receivers coach) Bush (Hamdan) all the time, it’s like he’s subbing in a hockey lineup with the wide receivers,” Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz said after the game. “They just come in and out all the time. So it’s good to get a lot of people in there.”
It’s actually a running back, Tyler Badie, who leads the Tigers in both receptions and receiving yards. There’s been much more sharing of the wealth among the wideouts. Redshirt freshman Chance Luper tops the receiver group in yards with 124. Chism is the only receiver with double-digit receptions. Mookie Cooper and Dominic Lovett each have nine catches. Cooper and Lovett, like Luper, are freshmen. Fellow freshman JJ Hester had a 65-yard reception on a crossing route against SEMO.
All have contributed to a youth movement among the position group. Redshirt freshman Ja’Mori Maclin will likely become the fifth freshman to see action when he returns from a broken forearm. Only one freshman caught a pass in 2020: Kris Abrams-Draine, who is now a cornerback.
Drinkwitz lauded the performances of Lovett, Luper and Maclin throughout fall camp, mentioning all as players he expected to get action from the beginning of the season. Cooper’s speed impressed in the spring, but a foot injury late in fall camp limited him in the first three games.
Most of Cooper’s action in Week 1 against Central Michigan came close to the line of scrimmage on screens and swing passes. After a 16-yard catch against Kentucky the next week, he finally showed the downfield presence he could bring against SEMO with a 46-yard reception to get Missouri out from the shadow of its own goal line.
Lovett, a four-star recruit from East St. Louis who flipped to Missouri in December after originally committing to Arizona State, has been the closest thing to an every-down receiver among the younger guys.
“The game moves a tad bit faster, but when you get out there, Chance, JJ, Keke, all the older guys can kind of just talk to me, just let me know that it’s always going to be football, so don’t let the moment just overwhelm you,” he said. “Just go out there, play your game.
“You got guys just as fast as you, strong as you, so you just gotta adjust.”
Quarterback Connor Bazelak has already thrown more touchdowns this year (nine) than in 10 games in 2020 (seven).
“I thought it was good just to get the young guys going,” he said Saturday. “A lot of those guys don’t have a lot of experience, so just getting that chemistry in game is really important.”