There are only three SEC teams that remain undefeated after five weeks. Missouri football is one of them with a 38-21 win over Vanderbilt.
Here are seven thoughts on Missouri's win over Vanderbilt, which propelled MU to 5-0 overall and 1-0 in SEC play.
Now, Missouri has the nation's attention. It's time to get the curiosity.
Defeating Vanderbilt does move the needle much, you have to admit.
Not downplaying Vanderbilt, a team that has made massive strides under Clark Lea and made a serious run in the fourth quarter. Missouri needed to win that game, and did. That's a common theme in the Eli Drinkwitz era where MU has always won the games it needed to.
LSU is a game that Missouri has to want to win.
Before the beginning of the season, plenty of pundits didn't even have Missouri in a bowl game. Now, the Tigers are a win away from being the first team to clinch bowl eligibility this season by virtue of having the 11 a.m. window with LSU.
Starting 5-0 has gotten Missouri some attention. Winning this weekend will earn Missouri national curiosity.
A 6-0 start comes with a different context, new tone and a new conversation. A 6-0 MU team moves into the top 20, perhaps even the top 15 depending on what the win looks like.
That's when you start discussing where this team goes.
A 6-0 team could go 3-3 the rest of the way and be 9-3, which is a fringe New Year's Six Bowl resume. Anything above that, you start the hushed and hallowed discussion of "College Football Playoff." Is that premature? Sure.
But wait. Maybe it's just me, but this season feels like it's about to fall off its rocker.
Georgia doesn't feel as invincible as it always has been the last two years; same with Michigan. Alabama isn't the usual Alabama. Caleb Williams is great; USC's defense very much isn't. I don't even want to wonder if Texas is back.
This season could court massive chaos. Missouri could play itself right into the middle of national conversation. That's what a win does. That's still premature considering the gauntlet is up next.
Now is also when the real tests start for Missouri
LSU coming to town is just the first hurdle for MU. You don't have to look far for the next one.
After LSU, Missouri travels to Lexington to play No. 20 Kentucky before returning home to play South Carolina. After that it's a date in Athens with No. 1 Georgia with a home tilt against No. 22 Tennessee after.
This weekend starts a slate of four ranked opponents in five games. South Carolina isn't a slouch either, even if MU has had the Gamecocks' number recently.
Coming out of the gauntlet even with just two wins would mean Missouri will have beaten one or two of Kentucky, Georiga, Tennessee or LSU. That's not acing the midterm, but would a B+ be the worst outcome? I don't think so, especially for a team that's clearly better than the last few years.
The defense needs to play a complete game.
The offense is clicking. There are multiple players who are among the top of the SEC in plenty of categories.
The defense was stout on Saturday. Then, the Tigers got to the fourth quarter where Vanderbilt scored 14 points and made it a game again.
The unability to play a complete game aginst Vanderbilt is only a tad concerning. MU's defense finished the job thanks to Austin Firestone and Kris Abrams-Draine. The latter of which is playing himself into the second day of the 2024 NFL Draft.
Still, LSU is much less of a slouch. Forget the 3-2 record, the Bayou Tigers put up points to the tune of 44 points per game. MU's defense can't afford to let its foot off the gas.
The first step is getting healthy, for sure. Getting Darius Robinson back healthy is a first step, as is a healthy Ennis Rakestraw, Drey Norwood and Abrams-Draine. These Tigers defensive backs are in for a test against a really, really talented LSU receiver room.
Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. have over 1,100 yards and 13 touchdown receptions between the two of them.
MU's defense has stood tall before plenty of times. It'll have to do so again for four quarters Saturday.
The defensive line's output with Darius Robinson's absence was impressive
Before Missouri made the trip on Saturday, the program needed to make a decision on Darius Robinson and his injured calf.
Drinkwitz addressed it after the game. The coach said Robinson felt good enough to participate in the walkthrough on Thursday, but on Friday Robinson didn’t feel he could do enough to make the trip.
In Robinson's place, Missouri's defense got one sack. Don't let that fool you, the pressure was effective enough. The Tigers hit Ken Seals 10 times.
That lone sack was on fourth down by Austin Firestone, turned the ball over back to MU and led to Burden's nail-in-the-coffin touchdown that all but sealed the win for Missouri.
Robinson is undoubtedly the player Missouri wants on the field at all times. His versatility has proven useful this season, and he's proven how strong he is as a player in general. Still, he needed to heal his calf. If he had an injury that was consistently giving out on him in the first quarter of games, it does the team no good to not invest time for him to heal.
If Saturday was the game MU had to play without Robinson, then that's a massive win. Especially if Missouri gets Robinson back for the LSU game. The line wasn't lost without him by any means, however.
Luther Burden is in first-round pick status
Through six games, Burden is leading the nation in receiving yards. Those 644 receiving yards are not the stat that caught my eye, though.
I was on X, formerly known as Twitter, Sunday evening when a Missouri fan posted this comparison of SEC wide receivers.
DeVonta Smith through five games in 2020: 45 catches, 556 yards and four touchdowns. Luther Burden through five games this year: 43 catches, 644 yards and five touchdowns.
Smith won the Heisman Trophy that season.
Burden said he doesn't pay attention to postseason accolades or anything of the sort, but it's hard not to see him as a Belitnikoff Award finalist this December. The numbers and film he has through five games put him into first-round pick status.
Vanderbilt was putting safeties one-on-one with Burden, which is almost the same as giving Missouri 15 free yards plus whatever Burden gets after breaking the first tackle. On Saturday, he had 58 yards after the catch.
Burden's jump from his freshman season to his sophomore year has been meteoric. When you raise Burden against the top receiver prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft - the likes of Marvin Harrison Jr. at Ohio State, Keon Coleman at Florida State, Emeka Egbuka at Ohio State and Malik Nabers at LSU - it's hard to argue that he doesn't fit into that tier of receivers.
Burden's ability to create separation, break tackles, catch passes in traffic and run block have all got exponentially better. He's going to hear his name called early whenever he declares.
Brady Cook is in All-SEC status
Every week, it seems like Brady Cook is becoming more and more of a gunslinger.
He recorded another career high in passing against Vanderbilt, throwing an astounding 395 yards with three touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception, too. Cook set the SEC's record for passes without an interception, breaking Andre Woodson's record.
Even Cook is convinced that will probably just happen at some point.
"Interceptions are part of the game," Cook said. "I'll probably throw an interception this year. So, I'm not too worried about it."
That doesn't just happen, either. There is no other SEC quarterback who has not thrown an interception this season. Every starting quarterback has thrown at least two interceptions.
Cook is top five in the SEC quarterback in passing yards, completion percentage, yards per completion, touchdowns, interceptions and quarterback rating. He's currently a top-three quarterback in the SEC. If the season ended today, he'd be an All-SEC quarterback to be the first-team quarterback.
How much better is Missouri in 2023 than the last two years? It's simple
Consider this, when was the last time Missouri won its first SEC game of the season? That was 2019. When was the last time Missouri started 5-0? That was 2013.
Understanding where Missouri is now compared to previous years using those kinds of milestones is perfectly acceptable.
How about this? Missouri has won five games, how long did it take Drinkwitz's past three teams to win five games?
In 2020, the COVID-19 season, Drinkwitz won his fifth game in December in a 50-48 win over Arkansas. In 2021, win No. 5 was a 31-28 win over South Carolina at Faurot Field. In 2022, that fifth win was a non-conference rout of New Mexico State.
Win No. 5 in 2023 came on the last day of September, and what a thrilling month that was for Missouri.
An underwhelming 2-0 start with wins over South Dakota and Middle Tennessee State was quickly forgotten about as the momentum from the upset win over Kansas State never faded in wins over Memphis and Vanderbilt. It's been an exciting season. It could get even better.
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: 7 thoughts after Missouri football's win over Vanderbilt