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Everything Eli Drinkwitz said on Tuesday heading into Week 8 vs. Vanderbilt

Coming off of a bye week in week seven, Missouri (2-4) will look to get back in the win column after its week eight game versus Vanderbilt (3-4). 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.

Opening statement

I'm excited to get going this week, obviously, it’s homecoming. The place that invented homecoming. So, it's going to be a great week of alumni and families coming back here. It's also our Gold Rush game and can't wait to break out a new uniform style for this week and so excited about everything that comes in around homecoming. I saw a tweet about us making sure that Jesse Hall is lit gold to remind everybody to come home, so embracing all of the traditions, and I know we'll get decks Friday night and all of that. So, it's a great time to be in Columbia, Missouri. It's a great time to be alumni of the University of Missouri and our football team will embrace the excitement but the most important thing is that we earn the opportunity to play well and that occurs through practice.

We had a really good bye week and felt like we did exactly what we wanted to do, which is refresh and recharge some of our vets and played a lot of plays. Let our younger guys and in underclassmen continue to develop. It culminated with a great scrimmage on Thursday, and then we were back on Sunday working on Vanderbilt. Today will be our toughness Tuesday, where we'll crank up to full speed on exactly what we're dialed in on first and second down for Vandy. And we're a little bit ahead so we'll hit some situational things also for Vanderbilt.

As far as an injury report. We believe Chad Bailey, Barrett Banister and Kris Abrams-Draine should be probable this week. Luther Burden III is still battling his injury. So we'll see how today goes on where he's at. Hyrin White is still not where we want him to be coming back. So we'll let him continue rehab this week, but he will not be available. He will be out this week.

What's the deal with Chance Luper? Anything you can update on regarding his situation?

I probably need to ask him and his dad before I get into exact specifics, but three months was what we were kind of given. And so that would be the end of November.

What do you feel like during the bye week are some of the biggest things you saw your team improve on? Whether it's mindset-wise or on the field.

Yeah, I thought they did a great job of coming out with the mindset of always competing. I thought the way our younger guys went out every Tuesday, Wednesday and in that scrimmage Thursday and played really hard, really good football, physical. I thought our upperclassmen competed in doing the individual and getting better and sharpening their tools and fundamentals. There are some key areas that we really need to improve on if we want to go from where we are to where we want to be. So, we've really been harping on those and I didn't see any flinch or blink in our guys. It was ‘yes sir, let's go do it, let's go fix it.’ And that was good to see.

Do you kind of feel like the bye week came at the perfect time for you guys with where you're at?

Yeah, absolutely. I thought just from a health standpoint, the mentality standpoint, we just needed a break. to refocus and reengage. And now we got a great opportunity to compete. Homecoming is always a great crowd. It's always great energy around Columbia and around our university and so it'll be good for our guys to go out there and earn it and that's what we're going to have to do.

(Vanderbilt head) coach (Clark) Lea does a tremendous job. They've got really good schemes. I think Coach Lea is building a program. He's got some veteran players that have been there a long time all four defensive linemen have been there, they have two linebackers returning as starters, and two of its secondary members played against us last year at the safety position. One of them played corner. So, they've got a lot of veterans who've played a lot of football. On the offensive side of the ball, they've got they present a lot of different challenges through a variety of formations and play concepts and obviously, Vanderbilt is sound on special teams. They've got an Australian transfer punter. That can change his punt point. So, it's going to be a real challenge.

Obviously, our seniors and upperclassmen know the challenge that this is looking back on their careers here. So, we got to go earn it this week. And this is a quality SEC football team that we're going to play. They had Ole Miss down 20-17 at halftime, and they were down 7-3 against Alabama, but they played well against those guys as long as they possibly could. It kind of got away at the end, but we've been on that side of those games too and it's not always reflective of where your team or your culture is.

Vanderbilt's got a true freshman quarterback in AJ Swann. What have you seen from him on tape so far?

He’s a very smart decision-maker. Accurate passer. Knows who his go-to guys are and they use him a lot and RPO systems. I think he's got one turnover on the season. Maybe not. But does not put the ball in jeopardy. They try to get him into good situations by running the football and creating third and manageable which allow them to utilize some RPOs and stuff to keep you off balance defensively and keep you out of your hot zone coverage. So, they've done a good job with him didn't work as quite as well as they'd like for it to on Saturday. And you know, they always have the ability to put in their quarterback that ran for, I think 200 yards against us last year. So, we got to prepare for both.

When you self-scout your offense during a bye week do you have a better feel for who you are what you do well, and then can you trim things out? Or how do you approach that?

Yeah, I think you're exactly right. You get a chance to kind of take a deep breath and really watch where you're at and see where the continual problems could be. And what are the schemes that we do efficiently. And what are the schemes that look good on paper and are not hitting for us the way we want to. So, there's absolutely a trimming of and forming of this is what we can do not what we want to do. So, that was the emphasis for us this week and an emphasis in our game plan.

The negative plays in the run game are kind of boom or bust. I mean, either get good runs or go backward. I mean, can you put your finger on what's going on there?

I mean there's some scheme issues, there's some technique issues and then obviously, there's some penalties. We have to clean up penalties. If you look at key moments and opportunity games, penalties have kept us from contributing from a loss to a win. So, we've got to get those cleaned up that are drive killers for us offensively. And defensively, they're drive extenders. So, those are two things that are one thing that we definitely look at and then you know, negative plays. I think we got to just be cognizant, I got to be cognizant, coaches have got to be cognizant of play designs that our guys can execute.

I don't know specific numbers, but when you look at those negative plays, a bigger portion happens on first down. I mean, seems like you've found yourself in second and more than 10 far more often than you'd like.

First and 10 efficiency has not been good and first and 10 penalties have really been an issue for us.

When you look at these tweaks and changes at this point in the season. Is there a fine line between too much changing too much overhauling?

There's no changing. It's tweaking and it's pushing in a certain direction. I mean, we're not putting in new plays. We're not becoming a triple-option offense. We're not putting in the flexbone. Okay, we run outside zone, inside zone and counter. We run counter a couple of different ways. Okay, so which one of the three is better? For us? You know, which one is better? This direction or that direction? Okay, can we change the launch point of the quarterback a little bit more so that we're not sitting ducks? Maybe five-man protection is not what we want it to be. So, let's focus more on some seven-man stuff. I mean, that's all kinds of opportunities and things that we can discuss but it's not ‘Oh, hey, we didn't ever run this. Let's try that.’ Like, it's not trying anything. It's pushing in a direction.

When you say you want to clean up penalties, what do you do during the week to like, try and achieve that?

I think you have to have accountability during practice. And you have to focus on it. When you watch the tape. You got to call it out for what it is. We have penalties or we had officials all through fall camp. That will point out penalties and we haven't been able to do that as much throughout the season during the game weeks. So, get back to some of that. A penalty is not accrued to one person, the entire team pays for it. We lose five yards as a team or 10 yards as a team. And so as a team, we have to have some accountability for it.

What can we expect from Vandy schematically on defense?

They got multiple schemes that play I think that's one of the strengths of a Coach Lea-style defense and obviously, he's got a new defensive coordinator that used to be at the University of Virginia. Like I said before he does a tremendous job. It's the scheme variety. They mix in multiple fronts. Four down front, three down front, bear front, lots of different fire zone coverages and man. Whatever keys you try to have on ‘Hey, this is going to tell you if it's quarters, this is going to tell you if it's cover two or one high safety,’ he mixes those constantly. So, it's hard to run cover three concepts where if it's cover three, you're working the left side, if it's cover two you're working the right side or midfield open you're working left side, middle field close, you're working right side, that's really difficult against this style of defense.

So, it's certainly a challenge and again, veteran guys up front on the defensive line. Played a lot of football, obviously played these guys last year, and they did a good job getting to the quarterback.

This is about the same time last season when things began to turn around for the team. Is there anything that you're drawing on from last year that some of the veteran players were maybe drawing on from last year that you're trying to implement the season?

I mean, I think experience is the best teacher right? So, I think yeah, some of those older guys will look to that and say ‘Hey, we were able to do this or this after coming out of the bye week.’

For me, I think it's about us earning the opportunity to win by cleaning up mistakes and taking things off of tape that are affecting the bottom line, which is winning and losing. And that's what we'll focus on.

After the last game, you said you only took three cornerbacks to Gainesville. Where are you at with that position? And how big is the fact you have Marcus Clarke been considering that?

Marcus Clarke was a huge addition for us, obviously. Specifically last week, we only took three scholarship quarterbacks with us. Since then, we've had a couple of guys like Abrams-Draine not be healthy. DJ (Jackson) is back running with our guys again. But LJ Hewitt and Davion Sistrunk have been suspended and we'll see where that ends up.

The middle eight of games some coaches talk about more than others. Do you have a kind of a guiding philosophy you take into games that you want to get out of those, those eight minutes?

We call them the swing eight. If you actually look at Georgia, its 8-8 when it loses the swing eight. They actually win games regardless of turnover margin. Coach (Kirby) Smart probably wouldn’t like to hear that but that and the explosive play battle are the two keys for how you have the best opportunity to win against Georgia.

So, we're always cognizant of swing eight and how our opponent plays in those styles. I think the biggest thing that you got to decide in the swing eight is what you decide on the opening kick. Are you receiving or kicking? The only time in football that you can actually gain a possession is to end the first half with the ball and then start with the ball in the second half. Which is really something that we feel philosophically try to do that's why we're such a defer-style team. So, depending on who gets the ball to start the second half, really depends on how we play the swing eight.

The Vandy game last year where that momentum you get going into halftime can be so pivotal for what happens the rest of the game I mean, how true is that?

I think if you look back since we've been here and I can trace it back further, but the swing eight has been a huge indicator of what we're going to take into halftime. If you look at Florida in 2020, we were down 13-7, we threw two passes 一 it’s third and one, we ran inside zone scheme and Brenton Cox spiked the B gap and we had a fumble. They took it scored. We tried to go again they got three Hail Marys in the endzone. They didn't score, but can completely flip the momentum of the game.

If you look at Georgia, we blocked the punt score and tied it up 14-14. They took it down when scored, got the ball to start the second half scored again and then ran away with it. They had a 14-7 win in the swing eight. Last year, we talked about Vandy where we scored right before halftime but if you remember South Carolina. We hit the field goal right before half and that ended up being the difference in the game being a 31-28 win. So, you can go back and look that it has a huge impact and so we're cognizant of not making mistakes going into halftime to give the other team momentum we're cognizant of trying to get points if possible.

Back on your run game that sometimes probably seems easy from the stands or on TV to look and think the wrong choices was made on a zone read. How many of those plays is there actually an option and what's been your kind of opinion on your guys execution of that when it's been the case this year?

It's an area that we could definitely improve on. I think you have to be cognizant that zone read has become something that defenses, especially in college football are more and more used to and so that they have what we consider a surf technique where they are in a square position and then they once they see if the quarterbacks handed the ball they chase and if the quarterbacks come out, they come flat down the line. When you play really good defensive ends who can run, it's not as clean of a play. But with that being said, there's been plenty of opportunities. I can think of three in short yardage that the right read was not made. And so that's something that we've got to continue to improve on. We were 10 of 14 on third one-to-two coming out of the bye week. And I think all four of them that we didn't get we pointed at potentially a wrong decision in the zone.

You mentioned health a couple of times and injury updates, how key is that at this point in the season to get better health and help you out?

Yeah, I mean, you want to be full strength to get good players who've earned opportunities to play based on what they put into the season and eight months of training. Injuries and knicks are part of the game but the fresher the horses the faster they tend to run.

You mentioned kind of getting the younger players that have the chance to stand out in practice. Are there any who stood out in particular during the bye week?

Yeah, I thought Marquis Gracial really had a really good bye week. I think Jalen Marshall did some good things in the interior, really excited about the growth. They just happen to have a lot of depth in front of him right now. We can't get frustrated with the process. Ky Montgomery is back in the practices and getting some reps and is really improving. He hasn't played football in a year and it's been awesome to see him really engaged in football activities. Isaac Thompson had a big crucial interception in Wednesday's practice and he continues to elevate his game, so we're excited about the growth that he's making. Mekhi Miller is continuing to practice hard and put himself in a position to be available. Micah Manning is a transfer that played in the Florida game and continues to take a lot of reps and get better. I thought both Sam (Horn) and Tyler (Macon) practiced well on Wednesday and Thursday. In the scrimmages, both led touchdown drives. Sam lead multiple touchdown drives. So, it was good to see. It wasn't perfect, but better ownership of what we're trying to accomplish. I've really been pleased with MaKyi Lee's growth and development and how he's changed his body and taken ownership of not playing as much as he would like to or hasn't played at all yet but gives us great effort and is not wasting a day. Xavier Simmons is practicing and DJ Wesolak has moved to linebacker and had an interception on Tuesday's practice that was a big-time play. So, you know I've seen a lot of those guys continue to improve.

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