Everything Eli Drinkwitz said on Tuesday
Eli Drinkwitz met with the media coming out of Mizzou's bye week as the Tigers prepare for Vanderbilt on Saturday. A full transcript is below. Video will be added when it is available.
“Good afternoon. Good to see you all again. Just want to start by, you know, thanking three members of our football team who suffered injuries that’s going to keep them out for the rest of the season. And just, last week was a tough week. It was a tough week. Three great men, three people who represented this university and this football team the right way. Proud of them. Obviously Chris Turner, a senior who's contributed and played a lot of football here for the Missouri Tigers, has battled so many things on and off the field. And this game can be cruel, and it's not always fair, and it's not fair for him to have to go out this way. But that's life, and he's handled it with a tremendous attitude. Obviously, he's disappointed in that he's not going to be able to finish the season on the football field the way he wanted to. But he's going to be with this football team. And he's going to continue to help coach and be around and encourage, and that's the thing about Chris that really stands out to me. The young man has never had a bad day. He's never had a bad day. It wasn't always going right, he wasn't always the starter. He had a lot of things — you know, most people didn't know when the hurricane came through this past September, his house was flooded. And he was able to block that out and continue to show up every day, work with determination and grit. Chris Turner is going to make it in this world, and we're going to be all proud that he's Mizzou made. And I'm sure proud to have been able to coach him for the last two seasons. But he has taught me a lot more than I've ever taught him. And I'm really proud of Chris Turner. Mason Pack, a super senior who came back and earned a scholarship, who works his butt off to give us great energy at practice. Hustles, flies around, embraces his role, is a good teammate. Was never about Mason Pack, was always about being a Missouri Tiger. Always Fight Tiger. And another young man that's Mizzou made, and suffered an injury in practice that’s going to keep him out the rest of the season, but a young man who still wants to fight, to be a part of this football team and is proud to put on the black and gold and to wear the block M, and we're gonna miss Mason. But man, just so fortunate to get to coach him. Just so fortunate to be around that positive energy. And then Case Cook. I’ve known Case since he was in high school, obviously coached his older brother at NC State. Have watched Case from afar. I remember when I was at App State and Mizzou played Troy, we had that game of crossover, watching Case then as a player, and to see how much of a leader he is to our football team. Captain, a guy who comes in here and pushes and prods and works. I think the young man has laid so much of his body on our football field, for our football team, for the brothers in that room, for this university. A guy who's had multiple surgeries. His body is just, it's just beat down. You know, he has a significant shoulder injury. They told him to shut it down after the Kentucky game. He refused, did not want to go out that way. Rehabbed and rehabbed and rehabbed to come back. And just, it just wasn't getting to where he could functionally play, and the doctors had to take it out of his hands, no longer let it be his decision. But to know how hard he fought to play for our football team, to play for this university, again, just so proud of these guys, just so proud. And I know in the midst of a season there's all kinds of things and talking points and storylines, but these three guys represent what we want Mizzou made to be, and what we want our culture and our football team to be about: About it's bigger than yourself, it's bigger than you. It's about the brotherhood. It's about giving everything you've got to this football team, and when the chips are good, you're good, and when the chips are down, you're still good. And that's what these three guys are, and we're going to miss their leadership on the football field. But the great news is we're not going to miss their presence in our locker room or on our football team. And we're going to celebrate those guys. And it's an opportunity for other people to step up and play and contribute. And so we will embrace that opportunity for those guys.
“Had a good bye week. Had the opportunity to really reflect on what we need to do to improve. Focused on some tangible things that we feel like we need to improve in order to finish out these last five games. Continue to work and create competition within our program and on the practice field. Got a challenge ahead of us this week. Obviously going on the road is always difficult in this league. Two years ago bears that witness. You know, have a defense that’s very long and physical up front. Very multiple in their approach, both four-down and three-down, multiple pressure packages. And they do a really good job on third downs with pressure. Create turnovers, have had two interceptions in each of the last four games. So that's going to be a challenge for us. We have got to take care of the football. And then offensively, they've got multiple position players at quarterback. Obviously they've got two different styles that they can go to, which creates a challenge for us and how we prepare that plan. And we're going to have to have, obviously, our work cut out for us, as we are still dealing with injuries, and so getting the young guys ready and able to play and focus on what their assignments are. So it's going to be a great task, a tall task, and one that we will embrace this week. So with that I'll open it up for questions.”
You mentioned Case, he’s one of a whole class of guys that would normally be seniors but have an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID year. Did you use the bye to start talking to any of those guys about whether or not they may look to come back? I know the number situation is very murky because the 85 scholarship cap comes back into play next season.
“Yeah, that's the very difficult challenge of the COVID year. And still, with so much left to play, there's so many different things that could be decided. I think we've had some preliminary conversations with a few people, but those will be kept internal. And basically just said, you know, guys, there's five weeks left, let's focus on finishing this week. And you really can't count, you can't look into the future. You know, I just spoke about three young men who didn't have the opportunity to finish it the way they wanted to play. So let's just enjoy the day, focus on the day. But we have had some conversations, and I have really no updates because nothing's decided with five games left to play.”
Does that include not being decided with Case? I mean, the way you talked about it, his body might not allow him to keep playing.
“It’s still a possibility, and that’s going to be something that Case is ultimately going to have to decide. I don't want him to make that decision in the emotion of the injury, and I don't want to put any words in his mouth or ideas in his head. That's going to be 100 percent his opportunity to decide with his family on what's in the best interest of him. And we'll go from there.”
I know there’s no depth chart, but who can you turn to for the snaps that Chris and Case were playing?
“Well, obviously (Connor Wood) has an opportunity for him at right guard. Him and EJ (Ndoma-Ogar) both have played that position and got an opportunity to compete there. At defensive end, Jatorian Hansford has been able to step up. Arden Walker, Johnny Walker, Cannon York are guys that really are in that rotation right now.”
You talked about self-scouting going into the bye. When you looked at things, did you find more personnel changes you can make or scheme changes you can make? What kind of things did you see that you think can be changed?
“Well, we have who we have. And we’ve got to improve technique and fundamentals. That's the biggest thing, like, it's technique and fundamentals driven. We've got to approve in our techniques, we’ve got to improve on our fundamentals within the scheme of what we're trying to run. And we got to look at, okay, are these the best calls? And it may draw up good, but it may not fit our players. And so that's, those are some of the things that we've discussed and had input on and tried to continue to work and say, okay, this is what we feel like we can be good at, and we feel like these players can be good at it. And that's what we got to do. I think there was really three main focuses just from an overall. Obviously penalties. Penalty yardage in our four losses is very lopsided. Turnovers in the four losses are very lopsided. We’ve got to protect the football, and if you turn it over, you got to get it back. You have to get it back. And then the last one was just slow starts. Slow starts. We've got to start faster, and that's a contribution of the turnovers and penalties. We start slow when we have turnovers in the first quarter, or if we have penalties the first quarter that inhibit drives.”
You didn’t have an opponent right in front of you going into the bye week. Now with an opponent in front of you, do you feel comfortable with what you have despite the injuries?
“Yeah, we got what we got. We have who we have, and we've got players who have God-given ability and talent, and we look forward to giving them an opportunity to play. So we're excited about their opportunity, their chance. And we recruited 85 starters in high school, so it's their opportunity to play and show what they have and where they got to improve and how much better they can get, and it's our job to put them in position to be successful. But there's opportunity for people to contribute.”
Did you see some individual guys who really took advantage of that week?
“I think a lot of our guys took advantage of last week. I think this is a hungry group. I don't sense that there's — I sense a lot of people that want to improve, want to get better. Understand we're not maybe where we wanted to be, but there's still a lot of opportunity left for us, and the only way to get better is to go to work. And whether it was true freshmen or fifth-year seniors or COVID seniors, I think everybody has, last week, really attacked that, and really Sunday night. We came back and had a good Sunday night practice. I thought there was good energy and excitement about what we were trying to accomplish.”
How does it affect the team from a mentality standpoint when you have a guy like Case Cook who is a captain go down with a season-ending injury?
“It’s an unfortunate part of the game. I think that's just really it. I think it hurts, and you grieve for that person, but you also press on. You have to press on. Time and tide wait for no man. And so this is an opportunity for somebody else to get their opportunity to play the game, and play the right way. And so you hate it for Case on an individual basis. You hate it for him. But for our football team, the season must continue. And that's the mindset of the team, that you can hurt for your brother, but you have to push on for the team.”
It looks like there is significant progress going on with the south end zone project. What’s it like to park your car and see that going on?
“Just excitement. Just excitement. It’s been a process to just continue to get that thing going. Thank not only the Board of Curators, but everybody involved, the President and the athletic director and the boosters who are believing in what we can be and what we will be and understand it’s all a vision and now the vision’s starting to become reality. So it’s really cool. Thought about grabbing some firewood. The weather’s changing so maybe we’ll grab some firewood too.”
You mentioned the turnovers. Specific with Connor Bazelak what goes into cutting down on the interceptions?
“Preparation, decision making, protection. I think those really when you look at the last three games that we had multiple turnovers in, that’s what it comes down to is decision making, preparation, understanding what they’re trying to do and why that’s not a good throw and then making sure that there’s protection so we’re not forcing a ball into situations that they shouldn’t be in, the clock going off early. Those are things that we’re working through and will continue to improve.”
How does he handle tough times? He didn’t really have a whole lot of them last year. What have you learned about him?
“I think it’s new. I think you can find out what you’re made of on all sides of it and I think we do a good job of making sure people understand that praise and blame are all the same. You can’t get caught up one way or the other. You’ve got to have confidence in who you are, own your mistakes and keep pushing forward. It’s easy to say all this stuff. It’s easy to say, it’s easy to read, it’s easy to like on Twitter. It’s when you’re actually walking through it that you’ve got to prove it. We’ve got a lot of confidence in Connor, but we also understand there’s competition and, you know, you got to continue to work to improve. We’ve got all the faith in the world in him and he’s got faith in himself, but we also have to continue to improve.”
I know you said after the last game that he wasn’t hurt, but he did look like he might have been limping in the fourth quarter. Obviously he was healthy enough to play, but did the bye week do him some good from that standpoint?
“I think time off was good for everybody. You know, seven games, I think it was good for everybody. The number one requirement to play the position of quarterback is toughness. Both physical and mental. That’s never going away. You’ve got to be mentally tough to handle the good times and the bad times, to handle the praise and the blame. You’ve got to be physically tough to handle the hits and shots that you’re gonna take, stand in and deliver the ball and he’s had both of those throughout the first seven games. I think it was good to get away, also see, yeah, these are things I’ve got to fix and take accountability for those, which I was proud of the way he’s done that and he’s going to continue to improve. He’s still very young in playing the quarterback position.”
You mentioned after the Texas A&M game you were learning a lot about yourself as a head coach. What have you learned through some of this adversity?
“Some of that I’ll keep to myself because there’s still a lot left to learn and go through, but I think probably no different than the quarterback a little bit that you’ve got to have both mental toughness and physical toughness in this situation. Coach Chizik used to always talk about you’ve got to have a ten thousand foot view. You’ve got to be able to see above the treeline and make sure you understand where the program’s going and where it’s headed, you can’t get caught up making, maybe if you drive and have your eyes down and try to steer, every turn you’re constantly changing paths. Rise above and seeing where we’re going and how we’re going to get there and what it’s going to take to be able to get there. And you know facing some adversity. I haven’t had my butt whipped like that before. Figuring out what is that combination, why is that, what is my ownership of that, how do I fix it? At the end of the day the ownership lies with me so I’ve got to continue to find ways to take lessons from losses.”
Clark Lea said today that Ken Seals is day to day and Mike Wright is going to remain the starter until Lea is healthy. How does that change the game plan and the next few days?
“So he said Ken Seals was day to day and Mike Wright would remain the starter?”
“It’s about what we, I guess it doesn’t really change. I guess you plan for Mike, but understand that Ken could play. I don’t know. I wish he’d give us a little more clarity. Coming from a guy that didn’t put out a depth chart.”
Not asking you to comment on any specific player, but there were a couple transfers that became public over the bye week. Has that part of the job and the roster turnover been about what you expected when you took over? Is that just part of having a coaching change?
“I didn’t really have a barometric for that to be honest because I think we’re in uncharted territory. I don’t know that there’s been head coaching turnover, the portal’s what, three seasons old, so this is new for every first year head coach or new head coaches with the portal. I think there’s always been avenues for people to come and go. Want to wish them well. Whoever leaves our program, we wish them the absolute best and hope that they go find the right fit for them and become the best version of themselves. That’s really all you can wish for for everybody. I’ve made decisions to take other jobs that best fit me and so I’m never going to begrudge those players. I would focus on the guys who are here. We’re trying to build the team and chemistry and camaraderie to find the right fit for Mizzou. And fit is a lot of different things. Fit doesn’t mean either person did wrong. Sometimes it just doesn’t fit and you’ve got to find the right fit for Mizzou, the right fit for what we’re trying to build here and like I said, I wish absolutely everybody who’s left the absolute best. However we can help them and aid them in their discovery of themselves and become the best version of themselves, we absolutely will. But I’m focused really on the last five games of this season and how to become the best team that we can be and how do we put the best product on the field that we can put this week against Vanderbilt, which is a challenge with all the injuries that we’re facing.”
How does recruiting momentum help you deal with what might be a tougher season than you expected?
“It’s all part. There’s no on the field success, recruiting success, personal success. It’s all wrapped into the journey that you’re on right now. So you’re learning lessons in some phases and you’re taking other phases and you’re combining it to try to build momentum to build what we’re trying to build. That’s all I would say about that.”
When you look at the ten thousand foot view, what is your big picture view of the program coming out of the bye into the last half of the season?
“My big picture view in the middle of the season right now is forgetting those things behind and press on towards the goal. I press on towards the goal which is to be 1-0 this week. I’ve got no other mindset. I’ve got a head coaching mindset that looks and sees where the vision of this program’s gonna go and what the goal is, which is on that team room and I’m focused on how do we build a team that can get there and will get there at some point, but right now, the only thing on my mind is what do I need to do to motivate our players, to put our players in a position to play Saturday and to win Saturday? That’s the most important thing to me. I owe it to Chris and Mason, to Case and Mike Maetti, to Akial Byers, to Sean Koetting, to Grant McKinniss, to Micah Wilson, to Kobie Whiteside to give them every single thing that I’ve got to make sure that we can be 1-0 Saturday. And that’s all that I am focused on. That really is it. Long term, we can discuss that at the end of the season, we can discuss that on signing day, we can discuss that moving forward, but right now in the middle of it, in the thick of it, and I’m concentrating on how do we play our best ball Saturday?”
You’ve mentioned the injury situation a few times. Are there other guys beyond those three that you know are out for the season?
“I don’t know anybody else that’s out for the season, but we’re still dealing with some injuries that occurred, whether it’s in the bye week and what not, we’ll answer those on Thursday. It’s that time of year and I don’t think it’s abnormal to me or Mizzou. It’s just college football. It’s a physical game.”
You talk about that 1-0 mentality a lot. I know it’s a common thing in football, but for you is there a mentor or someone who first impressed that on you?
“No, I don’t necessarily think it’s anything that was imprinted other than that’s just how you’ve got to go about your business in order to be successful. You get caught up and worry about too many scenarios and all these other things or what lies ahead, you don’t take care of what lies in front. In football, dealing with 18 to 22 year old young men and staff, it’s a challenge to get everybody on the same page pushing in the same direction and really that’s what we got to do in order to be successful. If you take care of the little things, then the big things will add up.”
Last time Missouri played at Vandy, obviously you weren’t here, but it wasn’t a good day. Do you draw on that at all or is that too much clutter?
“Forgetting those things that are behind, I press on towards the goal. I just don’t think that that’s a big, you can learn from the past and you can learn from it, but I don’t think it’s a motivational tactic moving forward. Obviously it’s something you’ve got to learn from and understand that that did and can happen, but we’re not using that to motivate us to play a certain way. Our motivation is internal based on what we’re trying to achieve and who we’re trying to play for, which is each other.”
You’ve not been shy about singing Tyler Badie’s praises this season.
“Why would I?”
I don’t know. How has he benefitted from the bye week and how much of your success over the next five weeks is on him continuing what he’s already done?
“Obviously Tyler has had a lion’s share of the load so any time we can give him a break and rest his body, I think it’s important, but there’s undue burden on Tyler that he’s got to do something special the next five games. We’ve got to continue to play better team football around Tyler. We’ve got to continue to utilize him the ways that we can for him to be successful and our team to be successful, but I don’t need him to feel like I’ve got to play so much better, I’ve got to do this. He’s doing everything he can. I think all of us around him need to play better. We’ve got to take care of the football, we’ve got to quit having penalties that we can control and we’ve got to start faster.”