Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz didn’t mince words after the Tigers’ 35-12 road loss to No. 21 Tennessee on Saturday.
"Didn’t start fast enough on either side of the ball," he said.
Tennessee gained and never let go of control in the Volunteers’ spread-defying victory over Missouri – its second consecutive win over a program that in recent years seemed to have a leg up on the Vols.
Missouri, then coached by Barry Odom, defeated Tennessee in 2017 and 2018 with identical final scores of 50-17 before Jeremy Pruitt’s team won a close 24-20 game in 2019.
The oddsmakers favored Tennessee by 10 1/2 points entering Saturday, indicating the chance for at least a close game.
That never materialized.
A lack of consistency on defense – especially in crucial third- and fourth-down situations – and a plethora of dropped catches kept Missouri from maintaining nay sort of momentum.
"Offensively, we’ve got to score touchdowns," Drinkwitz said. "We can't be settling for field goals. ... I don’t like the situation we’re in, and the only way to get out of it is to go back to work."
It’s clear that Drinkwitz knows there’s work to be done – he mentions work and his own desire to improve just as much as he hones in on the mistakes his players make. Whether or not that work can translate into wins in one of Missouri’s most unusual seasons, however, remains to be seen.
Drinkwitz addressed the Tigers’ quarterback situation, the battle in the trenches and more during a Zoom press conference following the game.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity:
Q: What do you think of Connor (Bazelak’s) performance, coming in during the second quarter and finishing the game? Has he solidified himself as your quarterback moving forward?
A: "I'm not gonna make any decisions right now. But I did think he played (and) handled himself well ... other than the one decision on the interception. I thought he managed the game really well and gave us a chance to move the ball and made some good throws."
What do you need to see different from your run defense moving forward after the slow start against Tennessee?
"We’ve got to stop people. (We’ve) got to make tackles, and then we can't give up 10-yard gains on second down. You know, (the Volunteers) were 4-for-4 on fourth down. I think all of them were quarterback sneaks. We’ve just got to be better in the trenches, and we’ve got to be better on defense."
What needs to be fixed with the defensive and offensive lines to win in the trenches?
"I'm gonna have to go back and watch the tape. You know, I don't know, I think there were a couple times we missed tackles, but you know, I'm gonna have to go back and watch the tape figure out exactly what is the matter."
How do you address this week’s and last week’s drops (by receivers)?
"We’ve got to address it. Four big drops – two on third downs. One for an explosive play that would have been big for us. One was a third down that would have led to a field goal, the other one was a drive that ... had a chance to be a touchdown. We can't drop the football."
How much of your playbook and tricks have we seen so far?
"I'm trying just to execute plays, you know. I mean, we’ve got to execute. Tricks aren't winning in the SEC – you’ve got to execute. We can try to trick people all we want, and we have unique formations that cause them issues. I mean, that's what happened on the fourth down when we hit Logan (Christopherson), but you know, we’ve got to execute better."
How close do you think your team is to clicking on offense?
"I mean, there were times I thought we were clicking pretty good. I thought (Damon) Hazelton did a really nice job getting open, and Connor and him had a connection. ... There's just not the consistency right now, and I’ve got to start and take a look in the mirror first."
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