Missouri (4-5) will be looking to bounce back and get back to .500 in week 11 when it heads to Knoxville to face No. 5 Tennessee (8-1). Mizzou head coach Eli Drinkwitz met with local media on Tuesday afternoon in advance of that game. Here is a full transcript of the press conference.
First off, congratulations to Dennis Gates on his first win yesterday. It’s exciting for us. Awesome student section. Really appreciate the fans for coming out for our athletic teams. It really makes our recruiting easier. It makes our game day better and is just a tribute to our student section and appreciate them being there. Also congratulations to Robin Pingeton and the women’s basketball team for the big win over Missouri State. Always great for both of those teams to be 1-0.
I’m so excited about what they’re embarking on. Also, I want to acknowledge that today is Election Day I would encourage everyone to exercise their freedom to do that, to use their right to vote. I pray for wisdom on the people that will be elected and for the people that are elected. And then we can find solutions and not just rhetoric for this country’s problems. A lot of people have made a lot of sacrifices over the course of our country’s history for us to have the freedoms to vote. I sure hope and pray that people will not take that freedom for granted.
New tasks and a great challenge this week. Obviously, we’re playing a top-five team on the road who’s playing at a really high level their quarterback is playing at a Heisman trophy level. They’ve got unbelievable skill players obviously. All three of their wide receivers are extremely electric Jalin Hyatt might be the best wide receiver in the country. Obviously, Cedric Tillman is a really good player also. Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright at running back are both very dynamic. Their offensive line presents problems. They have a dynamic scheme between head coach Josh Heupel and offensive coordinator Alex Golesh they do a tremendous job of putting their players in a position to be successful.
Defensively, they do a tremendous job of playing fast. They are very experienced when you look at the depth chart. The defensive line ? (the starter is a) senior and the backup is a senior, (another starter is a) junior and the backup is a redshirt senior, (another starter is a) redshirt junior and the backup is a senior, (another starter is a) redshirt senior and the backup is a junior.
Both linebackers are redshirt seniors backed up by a redshirt senior. So, very experienced. Two senior safeties. We’ve played against both of those guys since I’ve been here and then obviously the corners are juniors and a redshirt junior. So, a lot of experience, a lot of speed.
They played very physically, they’re downhill and so it’s going to be a real challenge for our football team and we’re excited about that challenge excited. We are excited about going on the road and matching up against a really good Tennessee Volunteer football team.
I know I’m going to be asked about the penalties and I did receive a response for the SEC. And I’ll tell you, the response says it’s going to have no bearing on the outcome or this next game. So, that’s what I’m going with. That’s not really what the response was, but that’s what I’m telling you the response is. It doesn’t change the outcome. So, it’s really not anything worth discussing in my opinion and it can only cost me money. So, it doesn’t have any effect on this next game. It doesn’t change the results.
What does Tennessee do on offense to separate it from a typical spread offense?
They attack. They use all three of the 53 1/3 yards wide of the field spacing to create one on one matchups. They have very good vertical speed. So, that puts your defensive players in a bad position. Do they (Mizzou’s secondary) play tight press and give themselves vertical shots? Do they play deep and throw it underneath and need to make tackles? So, it’s a challenging scheme combined with challenging players. And that’s when it’s really at its best.
What do you feel the team has learned from SEC road games this season? Is there anything you’d like to see them maybe change at Neyland Stadium?
Well, I don’t know if there’s anything that we necessarily have to change. We just have to continue to improve. Obviously, yes, we played at some really good road environments. Kansas State was really loud, Auburn, Florida and South Carolina has an incredible place to play and has really good noise. But this one will probably be the most challenging. It will be a combination of fan support. They’re playing really well. So, there’ll be support there. We’ve got to do a better job offensively of not having false start penalties. Those have been things that have shown up and maintain composure and I would say that’s probably the number one thing.
The past few years you’d use results from the season before to motivate the guys for a game. Has there been any of that this week?
There hasn’t been any conversation because that was last year’s team. This year is a brand new season, brand new year and I think you will all watch the game and see what they did to attack this, but that’s not the motivational cry. The motivational cry is for us to be the best version of ourselves we can be and we got to continue to improve based on last week’s performance.
Tennessee has the reputation as a really good passing team but the run game you guys saw firsthand. How good are they in that phase this year?
Yeah, they’re really good at running the football. Obviously, they have a quarterback who has the ability to run combined with a running back and again if you decide to spread out to match their spacing and you create vertical seams in the run game and they do a really nice job of exploiting those. Like I said they have some really good running backs and Hendon (Hooker) himself is a really good dynamic runner and they utilize both some inside schemes, but also zone-read schemes to give the quarterback the freedom to pull it in. Again, if you’re playing a single high defense here your secondary player is in the middle of the field which is a long way for him to go to make tackles. If you’re in a cover zero they’re going to throw the ball by us.
Did you learn anything from last year’s game versus Tennessee that you can apply this week?
A whole list of things. I’m not sharing. Maybe after the game, I will, but there’s a whole list of things that you look back on and you say ‘Okay, I have to do this a lot better on both sides of the ball.’ I think we’ve attacked that on one side of the ball and made a lot of improvements in that case.
Were there any common issues on third downs struggles Saturday?
Yeah, there are a lot of issues. A lot of combinations of design, protection and execution.
Easily fixable in a week or is it just kind of one of those things that popped up like other things have at times too?
I mean, the hope is that everything’s fixable. The hope is that everybody attacks it. I think the growth that I’ve seen in our team is there’s a maturity of owning the responsibility of everybody fixing it. And it starts with design, which is me, got to do a better job of designing third downs and give us an opportunity to be successful and we know as an offense when we’re good, like in week nine, we were executing on third downs. So, from top to bottom, we got to do a better job. The beauty of offense and the struggle of offense is that the 11 have to act as one in order to be successful and if one person breaks down, it’s gonna affect the other 10. We just had too many of those issues.
Will you try and get some game reps for a younger quarterback at this point in the year or is Brady Cook the guy?
I’m really focused on this game and this opportunity. If the opportunity presents itself for us to get another quarterback in a situation that we’re in control of, we would do that, but I’m not making that plan for this game. I hear the same thing y’all hear I’m not deaf out there. I only have one headset on, so I can hear everybody else give me ideas. But the reality of it is the fourth quarter our quarterback played well enough to get us back in the game and gives us the lead. It doesn’t excuse the things that occurred before that have to improve. But he still gives us our best chance moving forward and he’s going to continue to grow and get better as well as the guys behind him. They’re all still getting the reps. When their opportunity comes they’ll be ready.
You mentioned Brady improving in the fourth quarter this past week. What were some of the things that he did differently that really helped?
Well, we completed the past to Mekhi Miller. The bad thing is the quarterback gets a lot of the blame. There were some protection issues specifically the first play of the second half that broke down and put us behind the chains. But we got some completions and we got some confidence. On that last drive that we scored on. We hit an explosive play to Luther Burden III down the sideline we executed on a very long third down to Barrett Banister from Brady. Those two things combined really gave us the opportunity to score on that last drive. I thought he had his best throw on the two-point conversion. Obviously, his run on the quarterback scramble was all big plays. We just got to put it together sooner.
You mentioned the protection issues there and some false start penalties. Have you considered any changes on the offensive line?
We will make some changes this week on the offensive line due to injury and those will be worked out during practice starting today and seeing where that goes. We’re in a unique situation where our right tackle started the season at right guard and we lost to starting right tackles. So, we’re still working through it. It’s sad for EJ Ndoma-Ogar because he was really playing well. His best game so far through that first quarter before he got dinged up. That’s football. So, now we’re working on our sixth offensive line combination.
I know you said Ndoma-Ogar will be out for a while. Are you anticipating the season or before then?
I don’t know that yet. I anticipate the rest of this week and we’ll evaluate it depending on how long our season is.
Did you consider challenging the third and one play versus Kentucky? What’s that like? Because it’s not like the NFL where you could throw a flag.
Yep. So, the way the challenge process works in college football is there were two spots that I considered challenging. The dropped punt when Jack Stonehouse took off running. I felt like Jack reached the ball to the first down marker but then was marked a full yard short. Then on that third and one.
So, what happens on those things is you tell the official I want to challenge that. They tell you they’re looking at it. They don’t have an angle. So, they kind of give you the feedback that you can but it’s going to be a wasted challenge because they’re already looking at it. So, that’s what happens. There’s been a couple of times where I’ve used a challenge but it’s really just to give us a breather or timeout anyway or stop the clock. But there was not an angle that was definitive to say one way or the other.
What have you liked about how Brady has handled things this season? Obviously, you mentioned before people have talked about backup quarterbacks.
Yeah, Brady’s displayed a lot of toughness. Both mental and physical throughout the season, and that’s a trait that everybody can get behind. The results are not what anybody has wanted or anticipated. We all have our struggles and our accountabilities for those and I think he’s taken ownership of the things that he can take ownership for, and he’s trying to do the very best he can in a hard situation. When you’re not performing the way everybody wants you to perform everybody wants somebody else, somebody different. It’s just a growth process. Sometimes, it’s a lot of different combinations, but I’ve been proud of the way he’s led and not flinched and keeps going back up. He gives us everything we got.
Coach, what are some things Hendon Hooker does well, and what are some things you have to do to kind of contain that?
Hendon has really developed tremendously as a passer and then uses his athleticism and speed. He doesn’t rely on it. He utilizes it as an extra benefit. He’s a very strong and physical runner. The first guy very rarely tackles him. So, we got to do a great job of getting into the thigh boards to bring him down. If you hit him high or go low he steps over you because he is so long so it’s a real challenge.
Is there a chance right tackle Hyrin White comes back this season?
You said Jalin Hyatt may be the best receiver what has he done well this year?
I think he’s got 51 catches. He’s obviously got great vertical speed. He creates explosive plays and they utilize them in great schemes. So, I think it’s a combination of his speed, route running and catching ability.
I know Cody Schrader has shown plenty of durability and willingness to carry the ball however many times you need it. Would you like to or do you feel like you have the ability to split up any of those carries with anybody else or is it 90% Cody Schrader’s carries?
That’s something that we’ve got to continue to explore in practice and give people reps, and we got to trust that when we put other running backs in the game, they will know what to do, they know how to protect and they’re gonna take care of the football. That position is more than just handing the ball to them and they run especially as complex as offenses have become. They’re invaluable in protection, which we are getting blitzed quite a bit. And they do have to understand playing without the ball in their hands.
We had several drops at the running back position on check-downs that we’ve got to clean up. We’ve got to get more out of our run game, whether that’s blocking or creating yards. So, all of those things are on the table. I do want to see how Nate Peat and Elijah Young respond in practice this week and see if those guys can provide us with some more depth. I do think Cody has given us all he’s got, but I felt like last game for the first time we played him too much.
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