COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri football team didn’t just pick up a rare conference road victory over a ranked team on Saturday. More than at any time this season, Tigers coach Eli Drinkwitz believes his team fully embraced their identity in the win over South Carolina.
His matted hair and crooked clothes from the victory celebration was Drinkwitz’s message coming out of a noisy locker room at Williams-Brice Stadium. That identity begins with Missouri’s high play on defense.
“One of the things we’ve talked about as a team is acknowledging that they’re the strength of our team – and playing there,” Drinkwitz said after the 23-10 win over then-ranked Gamecocks. #25. “Don’t be afraid of it. And don’t point fingers and say, ‘Well, we need all of you to do this.'” Embrace who we are as a team.
Heading into the final third of the regular season, the Tigers (4-4, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) now know if they complement one of the best defenses in the SEC with a competent, methodical offense that values the ball, clearing reckless penalties and capitalizing on the pitch, there is a winning path forward. That may not be the plan Drinkwitz had in mind in August when he declared this to be his most talented and deepest team in three years at Mizzou. And the fact that it took eight weeks into the season to materialize might not inspire hope for long-term success. But better late than never, huh?
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“Quite honestly, if you look at the three (SEC) games that we lost, I think we were playing that way,” he said Tuesday ahead of the Tigers’ first practice of the week ahead of Saturday’s visit from the Kentucky (5-3, 2-3), an 11 a.m. kickoff on SEC Network. “We just…turned the ball over in critical situations. I think it’s more than we just embraced. Like, that’s what we have to do. Everyone wants to be the star, right? But sometimes you just have to understand and recognize that in this team and this brotherhood, our defense gives us the best chance of winning. So offensively and special teams, we have to support that. We have to keep improving. »
That’s what happened Saturday in South Carolina, where for only the second time this season, the Tigers did not commit a turnaround. It wasn’t the most prolific game of the year for quarterback Brady Cook and his cast of playmakers – United were averaging 5.3 yards per game, the team’s fourth-best average this season – but the Tigers regularly played in front of the chains and rarely put the ball in danger. Only two of United’s 69 scrimmage plays have required more than 10 yards for a first down. The Tigers limited their penalties and negative backfield plays and were much more efficient on first down, averaging 6.6 yards per play on first down.
At times, the offense simply bullied the Gamecocks up front and trusted tailback Cody Schrader to force their way through the middle of defense. Nine of his 21 carries have come between tackles and produced 25 of his 81 yards, per Pro Football Focus.
Drinkwitz also reincorporated the wide Luther Burden III into the running game, using it on multiple pitch sweeps in an early scoring practice. The Tigers extended their running game with a heavy dose of screen passing – 12 of Cook’s 26 passes were targeted behind the line of scrimmage – as well as short touch passes to slot receiver Dominic Lovett moving.
Has Drinkwitz discovered new pages from his playbook? After the game, he noted that his team was fighting well against the South Carolina defense, perhaps a nod to his familiarity with Gamecocks defensive coordinator Clayton White, whom he coached with for a while. one year in the state of North Carolina.
“We’re a game plan specific attack,” Drinkwitz said. “We have a basic DNA of what we run. But the way we do is always a little different. Each diagram presents a small new window. On Sundays we watch the matches. We explore ourselves and discover what we do well. We watch games and say, ‘OK, that’s the way to attack this team.’ Obviously, some things were a little bit unique and different for the game (from South Carolina). You can go back and watch every game and there’s always a somewhat unique showcase or style of play. But it wasn’t like it was a new offense. It was just a style of attack.
“I think Brady’s ability to stretch the field vertically early in the game really set the tone for us,” he added.
Cook has only tested South Carolina a few times, but Mizzou’s passing game has been particularly effective. On targeted passes 10 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, Cook was 4 of 6 for 141 yards.
Most important, however, is that the Tigers kept the ball. South Carolina caught a pass in the second quarter but was flagged for pass interference on the play. Otherwise, Mizzou kept the ball away from the Gamecocks. They interrupted a single pass.
Can the Tigers do it again against Kentucky? That’s the challenge Saturday against one of the best pass defenses in the country. Two years ago, the Tigers beat the UK simply by playing from distance. Mizzou ran 92 games in a 20-10 win, owned the ball for over 43 minutes and never returned the ball.
Sounds like a familiar plan.
“I think we’re holding our end of the bargain,” Drinkwitz said of Mizzou’s attack. “But we have to understand that we just can’t put the ball in danger.”