Eli Drinkwitz met with the media on Tuesday afternoon to wrap up the 35-28 loss at Kentucky and look ahead to Missouri’s matchup with Southeast Missouri. Here’s video of Drinkwitz’s press conference, plus everything the Tiger head coach had to say.
“New week, new opportunity with an in-state opponent that is going to present a very difficult challenge for us in a lot of different ways. Special teams, the last three seasons they’ve blocked 12 kicks, had multiple fake punts. On defense they present multiple issues with their run schemes, different gap schemes, inside, outside zone with zone read components and RPOs and they’ve got a very good wide receiver and running back that create difficulties for us in what we’re trying to do defensively. Offensively, they play multiple fronts and coverages. They’ve got some really talented defensive linemen, really big guys up front that run and chase the football, two long edge, overhang players who I think doing a really nice job of setting the edge and keeping contain and then their middle linebacker, Jacob Morrissey, is always around the football. They have our full attention and obviously being an in-state opponent adds a little bit more energy to the game and what we need to do in order to have our goal which is to be 1-and-0 at the end of the week. With that, I’ll open it up to questions.”
I know it’s never one thing, but looking at the film the first couple games with the run defense, are you seeing more issues at the line of scrimmage or at the second level?
“It’s all levels. It’s all levels. It’s tackling, it’s bad eyes, it’s gap integrity, it’s beating the man across from you. It’s a lot of different factors that have to be cleaned up and fixed. As poor as we did stopping the run, we still had an opportunity to win the game at the end of the game and I think taken away from that game was we’ve got to find one more play. We got to find a way to make one more play, whether that’s on the offensive side of the ball, whether that’s as a coach making a better play call or whether that’s on defense, we got to find a way to make a play. Several of the runs that led to big runs were after third down conversions where we didn’t keep contain and the quarterback scrambled or didn’t have the proper zone drop or didn’t play aggressive enough in our man to man coverage. So a lot of different factors led to the performance on Saturday.”
Is there any part of Saturday’s game you’re look at a blessing in disguise? I know you talked a lot after the game about how your team fought.
“Yeah, I think the huge positive is as poorly as we played, if we make one more play we have a chance to win the game and that’s a tribute to our teams refusal to give in, to continue to fight, scratch and claw all the way throughout the game. Those are positive things. We’re still trying to figure out who we are. I think we’re starting to settle in to where our strengths and weaknesses are and got to start pushing toward those this week.”
You were passionate about the response from your team. At the beginning of camp you had said you wanted to see more energy. How have you seen that mentality develop?
“I think we saw exactly that on Saturday, down 14-0, down 21-7 with a chance for them to score, turned the ball over the second play of the second half and none of those situations deterred us from fighting and staying focused on this play mentality and playing this play and you look up at the end of the game we’ve got the ball at the plus-40 and a chance to try to go down there and tie it. That’s what you got to do. It’s never gonna be pretty. I think the issue now with really anything, especially in sports, everything’s a beauty contest and it’s not about the result, it’s about how it looked and everybody who dissects and has an opinion about it. Which is what it is, I’m not complaining about it, it’s just the new norm. For us as players and coaches, we have to focus on, at the end of the day, the result’s what matters is you win or lose the game and how do you get there? We had an opportunity and we’ve got to find a way to make one more play.”
How do you balance the challenge of preaching the urgency internally but also externally you’re preaching patience?
“I think you got to set expectations, but you also have to have a reality of this isn’t microwave win, this isn’t microwave all of a sudden you’re SEC East champions or you’re competing for the SEC East. It’s not Miracle Gro. You can say all the right things, you can outwardly be doing all the right things, but it’s still a growth process. No different than planting a flower or you plant corn. My father-in-law’s a farmer. You’ve got to sow and you’ve got to water the ground and you’ve got to tear up weeds, you’ve got to battle heat and all kinds of stuff and then you’ll reap the reward. I think there’s a lot of positive momentum. I know everybody wants it right now, but there’s still a long process to be had on our football team and I think we’re getting there, but some of the teams that we’re playing right now have a ten-year head start on us in this program. We’ve got to get going and we’ve got to get there faster. I know that’s not going to make anybody happy, but that’s the reality. I’m not discouraged at all. That was a heck of a crowd, that was a heck of a moment for our team and we were right there and we’ve got to find one more way to get that one more play. One more play.”
What are the benefits of playing an in-state opponent?
“I think it gives an opportunity for kids who have always wanted to play in Faurot Field that may never, unfortunate that we can only give 25 of those scholarships a year so these are some other opportunities for people to come play in a great stadium, great environment. I think it continues to show the importance of football in our state and kind of set the tone. High school coaches will be here, high school teams will be here watching players that played for them. So I think it’s a huge positive. I think it grows the game in our state, which is ultimately what we’ve got to continue to do.”
Tyler Badie has been a pretty big part of the offense. Is there any concern about his workload?
“We’re trying to be 1-0. We’re trying to be 1-0. So we’re trying to win this week. I don’t worry about anything else other than how do we win a game this week? You start doing all that stuff — I can’t predict the future. If I could, man, I don’t know that I’d be a football coach. I’d probably be a stock person.”
How often during the course of a game do you find yourself saying, this was the plan going in, but this guy’s hot and he has to be out there a little bit more?
“I think right now with Tyler, you know, ultimately, we would like to find some other people who can share the load in the backfield. But on the road against an SEC opponent, you got to ride your horses. Coach (Bobby) Petrino used to say this at Arkansas: ‘FTS. Feed the studs.’ That’s what you’ve got to do. So we’re trying to be 1-0. Whoever gives us the best chance on that play to execute at a high level is who’s going to get it right now. Tyler’s playing at a very high level, so we’re going to ride that horse.”
What can you learn about a team and its culture after a loss, just watching how they respond?
“The first think you look for is how much they have invested into it. That’s shown by how much they’re hurting. How much did it mean to them? It was a really quiet locker room, it was a really ticked off bus ride home, bus ride and flight. Sunday, we went out and practiced, there wasn’t a lot of smiling. This team’s invested. They’re trying really hard to do what we ask them to do. We’re still not getting the results that we want. You gotta grow. You can’t grow weary while doing good. So we’re going to see the result, we’re going to see the harvest, we’re going to get there. You just gotta keep doing the right thing, gotta keep plugging away. That’s what we’re going to do. I mean, Saturday was a setback. It wasn’t anything more than that. A bump in the road, in my opinion.”
What have you seen from Jaylon Carlies the past couple weeks?
“Yeah, we got to keep JC out on the field the whole game. You know, didn’t play the first half versus Central Michigan and has a pick, and only played in pretty much the first half, maybe the last five minutes of the fourth quarter because of some health issues. We gotta keep him out there. The dude’s a playmaker. He’s got three turnovers in basically one game. So we gotta keep him out there, and he’s long, he’s run, he’s physical, got great ball skills. He’s got the potential to be an elite player for us.”
Missouri safety Jaylon Carlies has forced three turnovers in the team’s first two games. (S. Utterback/USA Today)
I know you’re fond of saying the play doesn’t care who makes it, but what is the importance of having a pair of tight ends that showed what they can add to this offense?
“Well it actually goes back to the play doesn’t care who makes it. You can draw up plays and if the ball was determined to go to that position based on the defense’s reaction, then those guys are ready and prepared to make the play, and really that’s what happened on both of Daniel’s touchdowns was he was kind of the outlet option for the quarterback and did exactly what he was supposed to do and the quarterback found him, and same kind of thing on some of our RPO game in the pass game where those guys were catching balls.”
Last week you said Connor Bazelak needed to do a better job on third downs, seemed like you all did a better job on third downs against Kentucky. What about this week, what would you like to see him improve?
“I thought overall Connor played pretty well. Just like everybody, we need to find one more play to win the game. I thought he did a really nice job of, I felt like in the second half I was extremely aggressive calling plays, trying to get some shots down the field, and he was doing a really good job of taking the check down and not forcing the ball, and I think that was a product of the second play (of the second half). I made a terrible play call and he forced the ball into a situation that it shouldn’t have been there, and that’s on me. I can’t make that call, and I told him, he’s gotta overcome coaching and fix it for us. So really, I think, just continue to be consistent with what he’s doing and don’t try to force the ball into places it doesn’t need to go.”
I know you played Chad Bailey a little bit more on Saturday, but Blaze and Devin have taken almost all the snaps. Do you feel like you’re close to having some other guys that can help out at that linebacker position?
“I mean, we really wish we were playing five guys at linebacker. But the reality of it is, nobody’s stepped up in practice to prove that they deserve the opportunity to play. And that’s just the reality of it. This isn’t open tryouts. The tryouts are on Sunday and Tuesday and Wednesday. And whoever has been playing has shown us on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday that they deserve the opportunity to play. Or they showed it during fall camp. So this isn’t, well, those guys, we’ll just try somebody else. Like I told them, you don’t like your role? Practice better. It’s not like we’re trying to hold anybody back. It’s not like we’re trying not to play the best players. Like, sure, we would love not to give up 340 yards rushing. So other people will play when they can earn the opportunity to play.”
You mentioned the locker room after the game. What is your message during a moment like that?
“My message really Saturday and Sunday were really similar. We lost, but all is not lost. We lost a game, but we have 10 games left, and how you move on from that loss determines the future of what we’re trying to accomplish. And then Sunday, after we watched the tape, it was, hey, I appreciate the fight. We’ve got to find one more play. And the only way I know to find one more play is either in the film room or at practice. That’s where you find the way to make that one more play. You either gotta watch more film and be more prepared or you’ve got to practice better and have better practice habits. And so that’s what we gotta go do if we want to get this bad taste out of our mouths.”
You’ve spoken a lot about opportunity today. Is a game like this a good chance to see what some younger players or players on the periphery can do in a game situation?
“The only way anybody is going to get a chance to play is if they earn the opportunity to play. This isn’t rec league. This is college football. The best 11 players are going to play, the guys that give us a chance ot win the game. This isn’t open tryouts, this isn’t participation trophy, this isn’t everybody gets a chance to play. I have no idea who’s going to play on Saturday. I know this: I’m going into it with the mentality that this Southeast Missouri State team is a very good special teams operation. They’ve blocked 12 kicks over the past three seasons. They’ve got multiple different fronts in coverages, which gave us lots of issues last week against Kentucky and against Central Michigan. They run the football, which we haven’t stopped the run consistently the first two games. So in my mindset, we’ve got to go play really well. And that’s it. And if anybody else plays, that’s going to be determined based on the fact that they have earned the opportunity to play. Not based on, well, this is a I-AA school and we’re an SEC school so so-and-so should get to play and Johnny gets to go ahead and get in the game this week. I don’t ever think that way, and I sure as heck don’t think that way with seven FCS teams beating Division I teams this year. And I can go through that list if you want to. Our team has that list printed off in their lockers this week. So we’re very aware that anybody can win or lose on any given Saturday. So if anybody thinks that they’re just going to get to play this week because we’re playing SEMO, they’re absolutely insane. The only people that are going to play are the people who earn that opportunity on Tuesday and Wednesday by the way they practice.”
I saw you got a chance to talk to Davis Taylor, the Rock Bridge freshman. How did that come about and what did that conversation mean to you?
“You know, honestly, I would prefer just to keep that between me and him, and wish him well in his recovery and know that we’re in his corner. But that was just something we felt like we needed to do.”
Back to the passing game. How close do you feel like those vertical shots are? Do you feel like that’s still a real work in progress, or are you seeing it close?
“It’s kind of hit and go. They played a lot of deep coverage to basically try and keep everything in front of them. I think there were really two balls that really shouldn’t have been thrown, and then maybe the first play of that last drive, where Mookie actually got behind them and we just didn’t really commit to the throw that we needed to make. I think we’re close, I think we’ll get there. I think it’s just a product of coverage matching what we’re trying to do. But again, I think the design is to be aggressive. We talk about, if the stage is set, take it. But if the stage isn’t set, we have outlets, and I thought that’s really where Connor had some of his best throws.”
When you look at Blaze, what can you say about everything that he’s done through the first two games?
“I mean, I think he’s doing, he’s being productive. He’s making tackles, he’s making some big plays when we need them.”
You talked earlier this year about the growth of Connor Tollison. I know he’s from near SEMO in Jackson. Can you speak to just how he’s grown this year?
“Yeah, Connor was a freshman early enrollee. Has played really three different positions for us this year in spring and fall camp, both the center position and the tackle position, and has done a nice job. He’s very athletic, he’s got the right mindset, he’s got the right haircut to play on the offensive line. And so we really are excited about his potential and growth here as a Missouri Tiger.”
Talk about this story and more in The Tigers’ Lair
Make sure you’re caught up on all the Tiger news and headlines
Subscribe to our YouTube Channel for video and live streaming coverage