Eli Drinkwitz previews Tennessee
After his team fell to 2-2 on the season during an overtime loss at Boston College on Saturday, Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz spoke to local media on Tuesday to look back at the last game and preview the Tigers' matchup against Josh Heupel and Tennessee. Here's everything Drinkwitz had to say.
“Glad to get back, get back going in the SEC. Obviously got a really tough game this week versus a quality opponent that I think is really well-coached. Really I think coach Heupel is doing a tremendous job on both sides of the ball. I think their offense is as explosive—I know last week probably didn’t score as many points as they could have, but very explosive offensively. They’re snapping the ball about three plays per minute which is at times the fastest offense in college football, which presents a whole new set of challenges for us defensively. Defensively, they’re very aggressive. I don’t know coach Banks personally, but extremely impressed with what he’s done so far at Tennessee and watched a lot of his Penn State tape and see the aggressive style of defense that they play. Very complementary football, I think their special teams, coach Ekeler does an outstanding job. They play very fast on special teams and you can just tell their whole football team plays in sync with how they’re wanting to play. Obviously in the SEC important game for everybody. Glad for it to be at home. Look forward to having a great home crowd and with that I’ll open it up to questions.
How different is what Josh does offensively from anything else you’ve seen this year?
“I think it’s totally different from anything we’ve seen this season. You know, they really do a nice job of attacking grass in space. They run the football. I think the misnomer’s that they just throw it all around the park. They really run it a lot. I think Hendon Hooker is a really dynamic quarterback. Obviously he’s got experience at Virginia Tech, so he’s played a lot of football and now he kind of fits that system. I remember Hendon really well, recruiting him when I was at NC State. He was at Dudley and does a really nice job, won the state championship when he was in high school and was at that game. Very impressed with him and what they’re doing defensively. They’ve really got two other really good quarterbacks too. The young man, Milton comes in, think he did a nice job, started the season, been banged up. You watch the spring game, Harrison throws a great deep ball, tremendously talented five-star players, so they’re really deep at that position and have a lot of options there.”
When you face a team that goes as fast as they do offensively does that change what you do on offense at all?
“It depends if you’re asking me as the head coach or the offensive coordinator. That’s where it gets into a little bit of a bind for me. As the head coach, yeah, you’ve got to do a great job of protecting your defense and you’ve got to do a great job of trying to keep them off rhythm. Time of possession’s not really a factor to them. If you’re asking as the offensive coordinator, our job is to score points and so we can’t let ourselves get out of rhythm because we’re trying to do something that we’re not normally doing and thus not scoring points. The name of the game is points. And I think the biggest thing in this game for us, you know, defensively we’ve got to continue to improve. Fundamentally, our angles, our tackling, our leverage points, our pad level. We’ve got to continue to improve and we’ve got to coach that better, but we’ve got to just make sure we’re comfortable within our scheme so that we’re not making too many checks. We’ve got to have our cleats on the ground, eyes on our keys when the ball’s snapped.”
What challenges does the tempo present your defense? Is it substitutions, communication?
“All. All the above. It starts with the communication and checks, making sure that all 11 people are on the same page, getting lined up. Defense is about communication. You’ve got to see the call, get in position, make sure your eyes are on your keys and then react accordingly. When somebody’s snapping the ball three plays every 60 seconds, there’s a lot of opportunities for error and they capitalize on those errors. So we’ve got to do a great job of making sure we communicate the right call, get lined up and get the defensive play executed.”
You mentioned the depth in the quarterback room. What goes into preparing a team when they have those different options and you don’t necessarily know who’s going to take the snap?
“I think the benefit for us is that they play a similar offense regardless. I think maybe you would have less quarterback draw if it’s Harrison (Bailey). But I think Joe (Milton) and Hendon (Hooker) play a very similar style of quarterback run, ability to create in the pocket, throw the ball vertically down the field, execute their offense at a high level.”
I know you said after Saturday you would have to watch the film. After doing that, did you see similar issues defensively to the loss at Kentucky or was it something different?
“After watching the tape there was a lot of things that needed to be corrected, but honestly, it really started mostly with me in making sure that as the head football coach, I’ve got everybody in sync and everybody in rhythm, that I’m doing a good job of making sure that the whole thing is functioning properly. There’s some mistakes that were made, some missed tackles, but I think the biggest thing was communication and making sure we were all on the same page of what we were supposed to execute on that play. That starts with me. My challenge to our staff is let’s make sure that all 11 guys are acting as one on defense and that we can play fast. We’re four weeks into a new defensive scheme and it’s going to get better. It’s going to get better, we’re going to get better, we’re all learning it, we’re all pushing this thing in the right direction so I’m not going to hit the panic button. Nobody’s going to hit the panic button. We’re going to get our players’ confidence back, we’re going to continue to work to improve our techniques and fundamentals and we’re going to move on to Tennessee. Because it’s a whole new set of challenges and problems this week and if we spend too much time thinking about last week then we’re not putting our proper focus on this week’s game. We made those corrections Sunday and, man, by Sunday night at 6:30, we were on to Tennessee.”
At this point in the season talking about improvements on defense, how easy or hard is it to do that kind of stuff mid-season?
“I think the biggest thing on this football team that everybody’s got to understand is it’s not a defensive problem. It’s every phase of that game had multiple plays that could have won the game. We got a penalty on special teams on the last drive that gave them 15 yards. For no reason. After the fact, after the whistle’s blown penalty. That’s a discipline issue that comes back to the head football coach. Offensively, we had two turnovers. We kick a field goal in the red zone because we have a negative play on a first and ten call. Those are things that got to get corrected for everybody. So this is not a defensive problem. Look, everybody can point out issues. It’s how do we find the solutions and for me that’s my job is to find out how do I get this whole organization running in the right way? I know the number one thing that causes an issue is when you do this (point fingers). It’s his fault, it’s their fault, man, it’s a lot of things. So we got to start, point being, it’s easy. It really is. It’s easy because you go back to work. Go back to work on fundamentals, go back and talk about the things that really affected the game. Talk about things that you can control. Look, offenses are good these days. They’re really good. They’re gonna find ways to attack weaknesses and they’re going to score. My job is to score one more point than the opponent and we had that opportunity and we didn’t get it done. So there’s a lot of ways to improve and it’s not just one side of the ball. It’s all phases. And that’s what we’re gonna do.”
How have you seen that message resonate with your players and how have they responded?
“I think they’ve responded. Obviously it was one of the quietest flights, locker rooms and bus rides that I’ve been because the team’s hurting because they’re invested. They’re invested in each other, they’re invested in this process, they’re invested in this game, they love the game. So consequently when you lose it’s painful. But we also understand that you can’t hang on to the pain. You’ve got to keep moving forward. Do not hang on to the pain. You’ve got to keep moving forward and you’ve got to learn your lessons. Last night, my daughter had a softball game, she struck out, she’s crying. Look, you can’t hang on to that strikeout. You’ve got to move on. Otherwise you’re going to strike out the next at bat. You got to learn to move on. How you deal with failure and setbacks determines who you are gonna be as a person moving forward. That’s life. That’s football. That’s us as a program. That’s me as a head coach.”
Have you ever met Josh Heupel before? Do you remember him coaching at Mizzou?
“You know, I really don’t. Looking back, the only time we would have crossed over was in 2015 when he was the offensive coordinator at Utah State, but I haven’t got a chance to really interact with Josh. I’ve heard a lot of positive things about him. We’ve got Barrett (Banister) watching all the spring game to see if he can pick up any of the signals. I’m just kidding. Don’t start all that. Never mind. But he is a tremendous football coach. He does a really nice job, but I have not had a chance to interact because we haven’t had in-person SEC meetings.”
Shawn Robinson had that interception Saturday. How have you seen him develop on defense since making that change?
“I’ve been blown away at what he’s been able to do and how quickly he’s been able to do it. He is playing a lot of football for us, playing a lot of different positions, doing a lot of different things and still making a lot of plays with effort and technique and toughness. Extremely proud of him and what he’s doing to help our football team.”
What kind of work have you seen him put in?
“Extra. All the time. In here watching film. He’s got a quarterback mindset at safety so he’s always working, he’s always watching film, he’s always wanting to know more, he’s always trying to pick up tendencies and all that stuff. He’s doing everything you could ask from him.”
You said coming into the year even though Harrison Mevis was really good last year he’d never done it in a game situation in front of a full crowd. Now having tangible evidence he can hit a 56-yarder in the biggest situation, what does that do for you going forward?
“It’s a gut kick for me because I’m so proud of him in that moment. And really the entire field goal unit and the sidelines, we were just like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna get it down there and we’re gonna go kick this field goal’ and we did it. So it gives you a lot of confidence that he’s gonna do it and he hit the pretty big game-winner against Arkansas last year down so we have a lot of confidence in his leg and who he is. Just disappointed that I wasn’t able to put us in a better situation to finish it off.”
Clock management is like the most second-guessed thing in football. How do you manage that part of the game? Is a lot of it on gut instinct, or do you kind of have set rules on when you call timeouts?
“Both. Okay, so, I don't know maybe specifically which one you're asking about. I know that there was the before half game management and then the end of the game.”
Yeah, either one. And then it sounded like maybe you thought there was targeting on Connor.
“Yeah, okay. So, before half, we were in what we call the swing eight opportunity, and so depending on what your philosophy is on whether or not you're trying to maximize possession or go into the ball — you know, I knew they started the second half with the football. And so, you know, one of the lessons I learned last year was against Florida, it was 13-7, I tried to be really aggressive, we fumbled, they scored. Kind of got the game out of reach. So, in that situation, on the road, you know, just wanted to make sure that the last play of that half was a play that, we either blocked the field goal, they made it or missed it, but we're going into halftime with a tie. So that’s why I chose not to use a timeout there. The other thought was do you ice the kicker or not? I’ve had success doing both. We had already come out of a timeout, I just figured, hey, let’s roll. Obviously didn't work, that’s part of it. In the second half, okay, so we called the timeout anyway. And so because I had used the timeout, then I asked them to review targeting. I had already used the timeout because we had run the clock down, and we weren't going to get the play off, so I needed to use that timeout anyway to save the five yards. I think we hit the screen the next play. End of game, you know, I was thinking, they had three timeouts, like, once we got the stop, right, I'm still, we're up by four. Once we get the stop, I got to make sure that I can either knee it out or do what I need to do. So once the clock got under 40 seconds and they've already used one of their timeouts, then the ballgame was decided by us, what we wanted to do with timeouts. You know, it was first and goal I think maybe at the 10, and then they got four yards, so a second goal, maybe at the six. And at that point, you know, last year against LSU, like, it's hey, we're playing this thing out, however it plays out, it plays out. But I didn’t want to keep letting them make decisions. I had two timeouts. There was a formation that we didn’t like, we didn’t think we were in the right call, so we called a timeout there.”
In that situation are you thinking about past experiences?
“That’s part of how you process it all. I mean, every game really has a life of its own, but the challenges are different. I think if you have learned experiences, it can kind of factor into it, but I think each game you’ve got to kind of figure out how that game is being played. I do think our offense had a lot of confidence to go kick that field goal because they've done that before, but I wasn't sitting there thinking, oh, this is just like LSU. I was thinkings some other stuff.”
When you’ve had those two last-minute drives this year, have you noticed defenses specifically trying to take Tyler (Badie) away, or is it more of a situation of you’ve got to go more downfield so maybe other guys are just a little bit more involved?
“Well, in this past game we only had like 25 seconds, so everything had to be at 15 yards or more, otherwise we weren't gonna get there. The Kentucky game, I believe we went completion, tempo play, incomplete. The second play, flat throw to Barrett. Third down, Tyler was the motion man, we gave up a sack, he would have been our first read on the right side of the field. So I think he was going to be involved, it just didn’t work out the way we wanted.”
You mentioned before the Kentucky and Boston College games that you don’t want to make them out to be bigger than they have to be, but they still serve as kind of a barometer for where the program stands. Do you take a moment to reflect afterward on where you are in the long term versus the short term?
“Yeah, I think all of the above. You think about, how do we be 1-0 this week, what’s the process and the approach to being 1-0, and how do we get everybody on the same page to try to win an SEC game this week? But there's also a view of 20,000 feet that says, okay, we're still lacking in this area, this area, this area. We're gonna have to go recruit here, develop here and get better here. And look at this matchup and see where they're stronger than us. Look at this matchup and see where we're, you know, that's our strength. So don’t grow weary while doing good. I think that's the challenge for our whole team and process. It’s like, you can get short term fixes or you can try to build a foundation, and we're committed to building a foundation and letting that speak for itself over the long term,.”
Can you speak to Harrison Mevis’ approach and how he’s build and improved?
“He’s a guy that works all the time. He is a constant learner. He is consistently practicing and we put him in those situations. And he kicks. He's a little bit similar to Connor (Bazelak) in that he doesn't ever get too high or too low. So, I think he's got a really bright future ahead of him and we’re extremely proud of him for being here and really grateful that he is.”
With the short term and long term fixes for the program, is that something you have to address in the offseason or is that something you can fix right now?
“It’s all the above. It's all the above. I mean, there's no instant oatmeal for a football program. So, there's some things that we can fix right now, there's approaches that we can fix. Whether it's not getting penalties on certain situations, whether it's calling better plays, whether it's making sure everybody's on the same page, whether or not we're getting the buy in that we need to from everybody within the organization. Those are things that you can approach right now. Overall, increasing your team speed, overall increasing your size at the lines of scrimmage, overall increasing your physicality at certain positions — like, I just can't fix those. Those are things over the long term where you see people that are built for success, they have these things and we're trying to get to those things. So, you know, how do find those solutions long term? There’s no waiver wire right now. There’s other stuff, but there’s no waiver wire. So we got what we got and we gotta make it fit to what we need. And then, but you’ve also got to look and say, okay, in two years, what do we want this team to be built like and are we recruiting that? Are we working in the offseason to get that or working right now to get that? And I think that’s the approach that we’re continuing to take every day. We want to be 1-0 this week, whatever it takes to win this week, which we’ll do But at the same time, we want to make sure that we set the standard of, hey, this is what we have to be in order to be successful long term.”
I know that sacks and pressures aren’t necessarily everything. Trajan (Jeffcoat)’s numbers in those categories seem a little bit down right now. Is he getting extra attention, and what have you thought of his play through four weeks?
“Trajan is working really hard to put himself in the best position he possibly can. Obviously when you got preseason accolades, there's gonna be more attention put on you as a player. And, you know, we just got to continue to work, all of us have got to continue to work to improve each week, and the plays will happen if we continue to do what we're asked to do within the framework of our scheme. I've got a lot of confidence in Trajan and know that his time is coming and he’ll continue to put in the work.”
You said that you’re not hitting the panic button on the defensive scheme. Is it difficult to resist the urge to change things up a little bit?
“No, not really. I mean, if you believe in what you're doing, believe in what you're doing, if you have belief in your players and belief in your coaches and a belief system that says they're doing what they can do, then keep going at it. Keep working. So, I believe in our staff, I believe in our players, I believe in our defense. And I believe we're going to get this thing moving in the right direction. I believe that I've got to continue to help them. I've got to put them in better situations, I've got to do my part as the head football coach. So I think it's more of a belief system that everybody's gotta internalize on what they can do to help make us more successfully. But it’s not panic or scratch. There’s a lot of football left. Lot of football left. And our best football is ahead of us.”
There’s probably a tendency from all of us to focus on the doom and gloom after a loss. How much do you like the trajectory of where you guys are headed?
“You know, any time you lose, the first thing that dips is your confidence, and that’s what losses do, they shake you. But yeah, there’s a lot of positives in that game, too, that you’ve got to continue to lean into and realize that this is going to be a long season. There’s still eight opportunities left for us, and everything that we want to work for, our goals for this season, to protect Faurot Field, continue to control our own destiny in the SEC as far as SEC league games, and so I try not to get caught up in the emotion of everything. Take the emotion out of it and just focus on the reality of everything. I think that's a little bit hard for everybody else, but that's got to be the approach. Otherwise, I am an emotional guy, so I tend to go too far, so I'm trying to really teach myself to not focus on the emotion. Take the emotion out of it, look at it from a clean slate and see that this is a process, it's going to be a process, and commit to the process.”
Is Mookie (Cooper) still working through the camp injury or is there just competition at that position?
“He’s just not been able to get all the way back. When you’re a guy who relies on you’re speed as your number one weapon, you’ve got to make sure — and I think we’ve done him a disservice because we've tried to, we got him back, but then we limited his role and then we got him back but he's still a little bit dinged. And so we're working with the doctors on what's the best approach so that he can feel comfortable and confident to just go out there and play. And it’s not, you know, he gets these five plays and that's his role this week, and then he goes out there and he touches it on the first play and it's like, I'm not really full speed to do that. So we’ve just got to work with him and I’ve got to trust him on where he’s at, if he’s not right. I want it so bad for him, that I’m like, okay, well, if you’re not there, I’ll still get you these, these and these. I think I’ve set him back.”
Can it be a benefit to your team’s psyche that you’ve already played two true road games in the first four weeks of the season?
“Two great atmospheres, by the way, too. I mean, really good atmospheres. Yeah, I don’t think the atmosphere bothered us at all, which was great, because I’ve seen that to be the opposite. But I’m not really focused on that right now, I’m focused on how we can approach handling tempo this week and an aggressive style defense. But it should pay dividends.”