Editor’s Note: This story is the third in a series analyzing the contenders to be Missouri’s starting quarterback in the fall. You can find the first article, on Shawn Robinson, here. The second, on Taylor Powell, is here.
There’s a lot of “new” going around the Missouri football program these days. New coach Eliah Drinkwitz frequents Twitter with his “#NewZOU” hashtag.
Oh, and the Tigers will have a new starting quarterback come Sept. 5.
There’s competition for the role, which is why Drinkwitz called the position “probably the biggest question mark on our football team right now,” on June 17.
Of course, after only three spring practices, Drinkwitz — and the public — have little to base a decision on, for right now.
Redshirt junior Shawn Robinson, who sat out the 2019 season after transferring from TCU, is the consensus favorite. As last year’s backups, redshirt junior Taylor Powell and redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak are also contenders.
To assemble in-depth scouting reports, The Maneater chatted with Austyn Carta-Samuels, who served in a variety of roles with the Missouri program under Barry Odom. He worked heavily on quarterback development with the current crop of potential QBs and their predecessors, Kelly Bryant and Drew Lock. Outside of the coaches on the Tigers’ current staff, Carta-Samuels is perhaps the most familiar with Missouri’s quarterback prospects.
The Maneater also dove into film and scoured stats to determine what each quarterback brings to the table.
We analyzed Robinson and Powell already, so redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak is up.
Path to Missouri
Bazelak, who hails from Dayton, Ohio, starred for Archbishop Alter High School. A three-star recruit, ESPN named him the nation’s No. 10 quarterback in the 2019 class.
During his senior year, Bazelak led his team to 13 straight wins and a state championship game appearance.
Bazelak chose Missouri over other SEC schools like Georgia, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, as well as ACC, Big Ten and Group of Five programs.
In 2019, Bazelak redshirted after appearing in three games.
Bazelak’s sample size of snaps is smaller than Powell or Robinson’s, which makes sense for the player who was third string for much of 2019. With that disclaimer in place, he put up strong numbers.
He threw 23 passes (about one-third of Powell’s attempts in 2018 and ‘19, and one-tenth of Robinson’s in 2018), but completed 15 and put 17 on target. Those percentages were significantly better than Powell and Robinson’s.
And though the average distance of Bazelak’s throws was shorter than that of his competitors, there’s something that catches the eye immediately when watching film: his arm strength.
“He can rip it, that’s for sure,” Carta-Samuels said.
Though he’s inexperienced at the next level, Bazelak’s throwing ability exceeds the standard expected of a college quarterback.
Some quarterbacks through the mentality of “‘I hope this gets there’ and push the ball through the end of the release,” Carta-Samuels said. “(Bazelak) just throws.”
Take a look at one of Bazelak’s passes from Missouri’s 2019 season finale against Arkansas, a game the then-true freshman started:
The pass isn’t a great one, but watch Bazelak throw. The ball travels a little more than 40 yards in the air and the quarterback makes it look clean and easy.
But to one of the coaches who recruited him, it’s the aura surrounding Bazelak that’s impressive.
“As I was recruiting at Missouri, a lot of people would ask me what was my evaluation,” Carta-Samuels said. “There’s a lot of things I’m evaluating, but truthfully, the first thing is ‘Does this look difficult or easy for the player?’”
And when Carta-Samuels watches Bazelak, he sees a quarterback who finds the game to be “easy-peasy.”
That shows up on tape.
Even as a third-stringer, Bazelak displayed a knowledge of his team’s playbook and an ability to go through progressions.
One throw from the first college game he threw a pass in:
To be fair, the game was over by this point late in the fourth quarter. Still, it’s a fourth-and-goal situation against one of the nation’s top defenses (which was still playing its starters).
Based on Bazelak’s progressions, it looks like the first option on this play was the receiver on the far side, who was supposed to break toward the sideline just past the goal line. That receiver couldn’t disengage from a defender, though, so Bazelak had to look elsewhere.
He promptly swivels to the opposite part of the field: the near corner of the end zone. Bazelak’s pass was right on target and quite catchable. If the receiver hadn’t tried for a one-handed highlight appearance, this would’ve/should’ve been a touchdown.
That’s a promising play to see from a true freshman.
There are examples of Bazelak making more complicated reads while a play is developing, too.
Check out one from the Arkansas game:
On another key play — this one a third down in the red zone — Bazelak looks calm while going through progressions. The first choice looks to be the Missouri running back (Larry Rountree, No. 34) headed toward the back pylon on the far side.
Some quarterbacks might have been baited into making that throw. Arkansas’ zone defense makes that receiver look semi-open as he runs between a linebacker and cornerback. That linebacker (No. 10) would be in prime position to intercept a pass there, though.
Instead, Bazelak knows where to look to save the play: Barrett Banister (No. 11) is cutting across the field, underneath the defense, on a slant route. Bazelak feeds him the ball on the run, and Banister is able to pick up the first down.
Carta-Samuels offered high praise in comparing Bazelak to former Missouri standout and current Denver Broncos QB Drew Lock. “It’s just that things are simple for him,” the coach said.
The biggest question mark around Bazelak is what his health will look like in 2020. He tore his ACL in that Arkansas game and was limited during the Tigers’ brief spring camp.
Bazelak tore his ACL on this play against the Razorbacks on Nov. 29.
As soon as the topic of Bazelak’s recovery is brought up, Carta-Samuels is quick to make something clear: “I don’t see it being an issue for him.”
Carta-Samuels tore his ACL during his senior season at Vanderbilt and played through the injury for four games. Within four and a half months, he said he was throwing the ball for NFL teams to watch.
“I’m really insensitive to this, honestly,” Carta-Samuels said. “If you attack your rehab with the mentality that I know Connor will attack his rehab, your strength comes back really quickly.”
The timing of Bazelak’s injury could be a bright spot. Despite limitations now, he should be 100 percent healthy by the time the season starts, Carta-Samuels said.
He also pointed out Bazelak’s sturdy frame as a reflection of the strength he has, which will prove key to full recovery.
The Bottom Line
Even with his potential, it doesn’t seem likely that Bazelak will be the Tigers’ starting quarterback in 2020. Robinson and Powell both bring more experience to the table, while Bazelak’s knee still creates some uncertainty.
“There’s still a lot of firsts,” Carta-Samuels said of what’s to come for Bazelak.
But with a strong set of intangibles — and a strong arm — Bazelak may well be the future of Drinkwitz’ program.
Edited by Maia Bond | firstname.lastname@example.org
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