Everything Eli Drinkwitz said on Tuesday
Eli Drinkwitz met with the media on Tuesday as Mizzou prepares to face Florida. Here is a full transcript of his press conference. We will add video when it is available.
“Just excited for this week. Obviously it's big for us because it's Senior Week, an opportunity to honor 24 players who have contributed a lot to our program. Some of them have been here for six, seven years. Some of them have been here for just a year, some of them have transferred in. They all have made significant contributions to our program, and we're excited to recognize them. The thing about playing football and playing at Mizzou is you get to join a brotherhood that expands for however long we've been playing this game, and you get to be a part of this great university and tradition of Mizzou football. And that's not something to take lightly. And it's only reserved for those who finish, and finish here at Mizzou. And so we'll be excited to honor those men on the football field on Saturday. Which makes this a big game. Makes it a really big game for us, not just because it's an SEC game and not just because it's against a competitive Florida Gator football team, but because it's for our seniors and the opportunity for us to end this season at home the right way and let those guys celebrate the right way.
"And so, with that pouring a lot of energy and effort into this game. Obviously it's going to be a very difficult game. They're very talented on both sides of the football, and know that they're not where they want to be from a season standpoint, but when you watch the tape, it's hard to exactly pinpoint why. They've got really good football players on both sides of the ball and on special teams, on defense. Their defensive line is as good as anybody that we’ve played. They’ve got elite pass rushers with Brenton Cox Jr. and/or Jeremiah Moon. Jeremiah also plays a little bit of linebacker. I think Zachary Carter, they're really big, with Gavin Dexter, their linebackers are very good players. Physical, Downhill. Kaiir Elam is, in my opinion, one of the top two, maybe top DBs in the conference, which would put him in elite company in the country, too. They’ve got depth at safety, they’ve played a lot of football that we’ve gone against. So defensively, multiple fronts, schemes, blitzes, coverages and are able to keep defenses off balance, or offenses off balance. Offensively, they’ve got a very talented wide receiver corps. It's got depth. I believe that Jacob Copeland, he was one of the highest-ranked players. Justin Shorter, a transfer from Penn State, that played well against us last year. Their offensive line is big and physical. Average, all of them average over 300 pounds. The quarterback position, obviously Emory Jones last week set the all time record, I think, for passing yards in a game. And I think they’ve had some pretty special quarterbacks at Florida, so that's rare air to be in. Obviously they have another quarterback who’s very talented. Anthony Richardson hasn’t played because of injury or whatnot. They alluded to he would be ready to go this week with a package, which quarterback run has given us issues in the past, so we’ve got to make sure we're on top of that. And then I think their running backs run hard. So obviously it's a very difficult test, and we're going to need our best stuff going into this game.
"I'd also like to congratulate Isaiah McGuire on being the SEC defensive lineman of the week. And then, again, give Tyler Badie a shout out for his fourth 200-yard game. Saw a stat where there’s only been three running backs to do that in the last several years, and obviously two of those games were against SEC opponents. So with that, I’ll open it up for questions.”
Where are you at as far as picking your starting quarterback? Is that a process that goes through the week, or do you already know what you’re going to do there?
“No, we’re going to have a great practice today. We’re going to compete today in practice, today and tomorrow. See where we’re at and who gives us the best chance to win.”
Is that similar to last week where you can’t have three separate plans?
“I don’t know if it’s fair to say that. I think, no different than what happened after a game earlier in the season where we said, hey, competition brings out the best in everybody, so we’re going to compete and see where it goes.”
Have you seen progress in Connor Bazelak from the start of this season to now?
“I mean, it depends how you define progress and where you see it. And there's all kinds of different ways that you can measure it. There's certainly been some progress in some plays. I think the deep ball accuracy has been improved. I think we’ve been able to get shots down the field. I thought, you know, that throw he made to Mookie Cooper with a guy in his face and he took a hit was very impressive. There’s also been some plays that you just can’t have at the quarterback position. And I’m not saying anything that we all don’t know and recognize. The worst thing that you can do on a football play is turn the ball over. That's the worst you can do. Taking a sack is bad. Throwing an incompletion is bad. But it's not the worst thing. The worst thing to do is turning the football over. And so, you know, for our football team, we have to be able to protect the ball, especially when our defense forces three turnovers. So I think there’s been steps forward, I think there’s been some things that we’ve been able to improve on. We’re still really young at the quarterback position. Again, there was some NFL quarterbacks that threw some really crazy interceptions in that Sunday night game, too. So that's part of playing the position. We just gotta make sure that they’re not poor decisions.”
Is there a next level of focus that you ask from your guys as you get into crunch time the next couple of weeks?
“I don't know if there's a next level of focus. I think we've seen starve your distractions and feed your focus. I think it’s just making sure that you clear the clutter of all the external things and just making sure that the main thing is the main thing. And that’s really what we're trying to focus on doing. You know, we've got, it's probably, maybe 10 days right now, two games in 10 days. You know, in the next 10 days, maybe it's 11 days. So we've just got to make sure that we're focused on the things that are important. And you got the rest of your life to get on Tik Tok and get on dating apps and all that other stuff. You’ve got 10 days to play two SEC football games are going to determine the kind of season we have.”
When you have a week like this when you have a sixth win on the line, is that something you lean into?
“No. I think it's important for us to focus on being 1-0. And then at the end of the season, we stack up how many wins you have and determine where you go. But there doesn't need to be any more external pressure because this game determines whether or not you go to a bowl game. If we're not motivated to go play for our seniors and we're not motivated to play at home, like, how much motivation do you need? No no, I’m not leaning into that at all.”
Do you go by Gary Pinkel’s mantra of those who win in November will be remembered? Is that something you bring up to your guys at all?
“Yeah, I mean, I think all football coaches have some sort of similar saying like that. It’s about how you finish. It’s all about how you finish. So as a whole team, we want to finish strong and put ourselves in a position to do that. But it’s about going and doing it, right? It’s about going and doing it.”
I remember last season a few seniors didn’t participate in the Senior Day ceremony because they had already made the decision to come back. Is there any plans to do anything similar like that, or is it just going to be everybody gets honored and make the decision after the season?
“There's gonna be a couple that don't go because they've already made their decisions to come back. There's a couple that are going through it because they have not yet made the decision. So we've asked that that they start — you know, last year, there was a COVID waiver, right? Everybody can come back. You know, this year the NCAA has not done that or made a decision on that. Everybody counts, and so in order for us to really properly weigh numbers and make sure we have the right numbers for the signing class, the right numbers for the 85, people are going to have to make decisions. But we also want to respect their ability to make that decision. So give them the time and space that they need. We don't want them to make a snap decision.”
I think it was about this time last year that you kind of lobbied to get Mike Maietti back. Are there any similar such statements for Tyler this year?
“No. I mean, I think this time last year, we were still playing like Week Seven. I think we were like Week Six of the season and still had three cancellations to happen. So no, I haven’t made any conversations with Tyler about that. You know, the one thing I think is very important for everybody is everybody's situation is uniquely different. And everybody involved in the draft process or the next level process has to determine what is in their best interest. Are they going to create more value for themselves by coming back? If you can create more value for yourself by coming back and being drafted in a higher round, then that's going to create more security and long term advantages for you. If you can't, if what you're going to do next year is only going to re-reach the level that you're at right now, then it's in your best interest to avoid the risk and going and moving on. And I think every individual player is different. I've had to go through this several times throughout my career, not only as a head coach, but as an assistant. So I think when it comes to the end of the season, when you can really start considering those things. You know, we send all the players that are draft eligible their grades and get a grade report back. Tell us what the NFL would advise, make our best recommendation, they visit with their circle and decide. So that will be the process. But I think Tyler’s really just focused on playing for us.”
Just how valuable has he been?
“Well, I think he’s been five wins valuable. I don’t know that we have five wins if it’s not for Tyler Badie. And you think about the Central Michigan game, the fourth quarter, when he's able to break the long run and set us up to win the game. And again, you get to the Vanderbilt game, where they've cut it down to three, hand him the ball and he goes 78 yards. And then, again, missed plays in the fourth quarter that allowed the game to get a lot closer than it needed to be, and then Tyler's able to run us down the field, and we’re able to take a knee. So I think all those plays are really definitive of how much of an impact he’s had for us.”
Could he have done what he’s doing now last year or did he need the offseason for whatever he has changed?
“You know, I’ve been so impressed with Tyler. I think he’s got that ability. I think if he was the guy last year and Larry wasn’t here we would have seen a lot of the similar traits. I do think that he was able to put on some weight, maybe get that mindset like ‘All right, Larry’s not here so I am going to have to carry the ball more,’ but I mean he’s a special player and he’s always been a special player and would have been able to be that same player last year.”
Have you seen him get tired at all? Because it doesn’t seem from watching like he does.
“The only time I saw him tired was against Vanderbilt when he had that really long run and then I made him stay in and go one more and I was like I probably should have gotten him out. But no, in the fourth quarter, he’s always ready to go and he’s a competitor. He wants to be in there, he wants the ball in his hands.”
Are there any other players you think have been five wins valuable?
“I think everybody’s been five wins valuable to us. Obviously Tyler’s not the guy he is if Michael Maetti’s not playing center and our offensive line and tight ends aren’t blocking, our quarterback’s not throwing the ball deep. We’ve been very good on third down, knock on wood, our red zone execution has allowed us to score points and stay in football games, so I mean, when I say that stuff about Tyler I’m pointing out the particulars at the end of the game to help us win. But collectively, I mean, obviously Harrison Mevis has been very good. There have been individual and team contributions on the defensive side of the ball. I think they really played well these last two games and they’re playing better these last few games and last week was their best game by far. I think it’s been a total contribution. I don’t mean it to be like it’s Tyler or bust, I just mean he’s had some great individual efforts too.”
The two transfers on the offensive line, Connor Wood and EJ Ndoma-Ogar, what does it say about them that neither was starting right away but they’ve been able to fill in at multiple spots?
“Again, that’s the benefit of getting a guy like Connor. He’s played college football, had a lot of really good starts and understand that you have to prepare each week and you never know when your number’s called and he’s been able to be very flexible for us and just provided a huge, I would say we wouldn’t win the game against South Carolina if he hadn’t had the position flexibility to slide out to right tackle for us. EJ has continued to work to progress in our offense and understand the techniques and schemes that we’ve asked him to do. I think it obviously wasn’t a perfect game. There was a lot of things on tape that we’ll work to improve but those guys have worked really hard to put themselves in a position to contribute.”
Some things will be made about how you view Florida especially after everything that happened last year. When you look back on last year’s game and everything that happened what are your thoughts on where this rivalry stands?
“I think it’s a good rivalry and we’re 5-5 Missouri versus Florida. Last year was last year. I think we put that to bed. Both teams issued statements following the game and I don’t think there’s anything really to add to that. I think coach Mullen’s a good football coach. Obviously he’s got a really sharp offensive mind, been very good for a long time on the offensive side of the ball, has been a head coach in this league for 13 years, which is saying a lot considering considering some coaches only last two. Obviously have a lot of respect for how he’s handled himself as a head football coach and the way he’s developed programs. To me we made statements last season and we’ll let those speak for themselves. I made a joke over the summer about wanting snow and apparently the snow gods aren’t going to cooperate so I’ll keep any more wisecracks to myself.”
Is there any specific area you stress this week trying to get to six wins with the importance of this game?
“We have to take care of the football. We can’t turn the ball over three times and expect to win the game. We’ve got to protect the football. Defensively, we got to be much better on third downs. That was an area that was disappointing. Our tackling was not great. There was several opportunities to make tackles short of third down conversions that we missed and so really those are the points of emphasis right now for both sides of the ball, how do we clean those things up?”
What’s it like constructing senior classes now as opposed to five or ten years ago when it was a bunch of guys that came up together and played together for four or five years?
“Again, it’s totally different. We’re going to be celebrating a couple guys that are transfers from last year, got several guys that transferred in this year, there are several guys that have been here for six to seven years so it’s a combination. I think that’s reflective of college football but it’s kind of reflective of a locker room and why it’s such a unique game and an awesome game and an awesome representation of our country and our ability to all work together to create some sort of success. You realize that individual success is not possible unless you work as a team and the best way to work on it as a team is to actually care about each other and invest in each other and I think that’s really what’s important in developing senior classes. They’re not as probably, like you said, ten years ago they all came in together and it was about who survived. Now it’s about who all comes together and what you’re worked to accomplish.”
With the run defense and its improvement was there a point for you that you saw that happen?
“When you go back and look at the North Texas game, I thought you saw some improvements in our gap sound, shedding the blocks. Didn’t think it really carried over that much to the Texas A&M game. I think we had the ability to make some plays in the Vanderbilt game, but we lost contain on the quarterback. But really I felt like it was Georgia where we were able to set edges and lose contain, we were able fill downhill at the linebacker position which allows the D-line to get off blocks a little bit easier and double teams aren’t sustained on them. I really felt like that was when it started to change.”
Jatorian Hansford has been here four years now and hasn’t seen the field a whole lot until the last few weeks. What’s he done for you since he’s been pressed into action?
“Jatorian’s one of those guys that has battled through a lot of injuries. It’s an unfortunate part of the game and he’s stayed positive and continued to work and just focused on what he can control. He has made some big plays for us the last two games and so we look forward to seeing him continue to do that and see what kind of contributions he can make when his number is called.”
You mentioned it being hard to figure out what is off with the Florida defense. Is it kind of a puzzle to figure out what’s going wrong?
“Yeah, it’s very confusing. Each play caller has their own DNA that they kind of rely on, fingerprint, when they call a game. I’ve gone against coach (Todd) Grantham several times and so I wouldn’t say I have a good idea of what he’s going to do, but you felt it and you kind of know and are playing a cat and mouse game. When you’re watching tape, you see, okay that’s coach Grantham’s fingerprint and now with the new defensive coordinator, it’s the same style of scheme but you’re not quite sure what he’s going to do, how’s he going to call it in this situation or that situation, what’s his go to when his back’s against the wall so to speak. And so it makes it a little bit more unique. We pride ourselves offensively as trying to be creative and create challenges for defenses to try to identify and figure out if they can match our motions and shifts and see if they leave gaps in coverage. That’s kind of who we are. We’ll just see if what we are and who we are is capable of creating success for us on Saturday.”