After a bye week and limited availability, Eli Drinkwitz spoke to the media for the first time this week Tuesday afternoon.
Before taking any questions, the Tigers Head Coach took time in his opening statement to address the season-ending injuries of OL Case Cook, DL Chris Turner, and DB Mason Pack. All three players were seniors and likely have worn the black and gold for the last time, but Drinkwitz made sure to thank them for their contributions to the Missouri football program.
“These three guys represent what we want Mizzou Made to be, and what we want our culture and our football team to be 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. That’s what these three guys are, and we’re going to miss their leadership on the football field.”
There is still a possibility that Turner or Cook could return because of COVID eligibility rules, but Drinkwitz thinks that’s a bridge the Tigers need to cross when they get there. “I think we’ve had some preliminary conversations with a few people, but those will be kept internal. Basically [we] just said, you know, guys, there’s five weeks left, let’s focus on finishing this week.”
As for who will be filling in for Cook and Turner, Drinkwitz mentioned Connor Wood and EJ Ndoma-Ogar as possible replacements at Cook’s guard position and Jatorian Hansford, Arden Walker, Johnny Walker, and Cannon York will all get the chance to fill Turner’s shoes.
Coming off a bye week, teams are always looking to use the extra time to evaluate their season and get better. According to Drinkwitz, what he saw this week from his team was encouraging. “I think a lot of our guys took advantage of last week,” he said. “I think this is a hungry group. I sense a lot of people that want to improve, want to get better,” he said. “[I] 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.”
There were some areas that Drinkwitz specifically identified as opportunities for the Tigers to get better after evaluating his team's rocky start in the first seven weeks.“Obviously penalties,” he said. “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. The last one was just slow starts. We’ve got to start faster, and that’s a contribution of the turnovers and penalties.”
While the bye week gave the Tigers a chance to pause, reevaluate, and get healthy, it’s also important to make sure you’re more than prepared for your next game back. Vanderbilt may be an underwhelming opponent to some, but the Missouri Tigers know better than most to not take the Commodores lightly.
Drinkwitz believes that the stingy Commodore defense will be what gives the Tigers the most issues this week. “You know, have a defense that’s very long and physical up front,” he said. “They do a really good job on third downs with pressure. [They] Create turnovers, [they] 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.”
Of course with the Tigers heading back to Nashville for the first time since their deflating loss there in 2019, Drinkwitz was asked if he will be using that game to motivate his team. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. “Forgetting those things that are behind, I press on towards the goal,” he said. “You can learn from the past... but I don’t think it’s a motivational tactic moving forward.”