After 2-2 start to 2021 season, Mizzou's Eli Drinkwitz isn't hitting the panic button

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune

When facing adversity, Missouri head football coach Eli Drinkwitz has a top priority.

No one, including himself, points fingers or passes blame.

Tension in the locker room was easy to imagine after Missouri's 41-34 overtime road loss against Boston College on Saturday, sending the Tigers to a 2-2 record after the first month of the season.

Just like two weeks previous in Missouri's other loss in 2021 to Kentucky, the Tigers had chances to win on the road, but fell seven points short. 

"It was one of the quietest flights and locker rooms and bus rides that I've been in because the team's hurting, because they're invested," Drinkwitz said Tuesday of the Tigers' trip back to Columbia from Boston. "They're invested in each other, they're invested in this process, they're invested in this game. They love the game. And so consequently when you lose it, it's painful.

"But we also understand that you can't hang on to the pain. You've got to keep moving forward."

Ahead of Missouri is a return to Southeastern Conference play against Tennessee, with an 11 a.m. Saturday kickoff from Faurot Field.

The Tigers haven't beaten the Volunteers since 2018. 

Entering a critical stretch, Drinkwitz's goal is to keep the team focused on beating Tennessee and use the battle scars from setbacks to prevent them in the future. 

Reflecting on his personal life, Drinkwitz shared a story about his daughter striking out at her softball game Monday. She started crying, but he was there to comfort and motivate her, relaying the message of not hanging on to that strikeout, or else it's destined to happen again.

Drinkwitz used the same evaluation process to diagnose what went astray against Boston College. While the defense's failures were evident, Drinkwitz believes the team's issues were more widespread. 

By dinner time Sunday night, Drinkwitz said the Tigers had made the necessary corrections from their loss to Boston College and had moved on to planning for Tennessee.

More:How to watch, listen, and livestream Mizzou vs. Tennessee

Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz looks on from the sideline during the first half against Boston College on Saturday in Boston.

"There was a lot of things that needed to be corrected. But honestly, it really started mostly with me in making sure that as the head football coach, I've got everybody in sync and everybody in rhythm and that I'm doing a good job of making sure that the whole thing is functioning properly," Drinkwitz said. "There's some mistakes that were made, some missed tackles. But I think the biggest thing was communication and making sure we were all on the same page, what we were supposed to execute on that play.

"And that starts with me. And so my challenge to our staff is to make sure that all 11 guys are acting as one on defense. And that we can play fast. We're four weeks into a new defensive scheme and it's going to get better. We're going to get better. We're all learning it. We're all pushing this thing in the right direction. So I'm not going to hit the panic button. Nobody's going to hit the panic button."

To compete with quality opposition, Missouri's defense has to improve. Its shaky nature has been noticed. 

“I don’t want to get into it. ... We’re going to have some fun," Volunteers running back Tiyon Evans said Tuesday in Knoxville. 

Missouri head football coach Eli Drinkwitz speaks to reporters after the first day of preseason practice at the Kadlec Practice Fields.

Scapegoating the Tigers' run defense has been a common thread throughout the first month of the season, and for good reason. Missouri has allowed an average of 269.3 rushing yards per game this year.

Missouri lost in two true road environments to teams with a combined 8-0 record by a touchdown apiece.

Not being undefeated doesn't fall solely on the defense, per Drinkwitz.

"The biggest thing on this football team that everybody's got to understand it's not a defensive problem. Every phase of that game had multiple plays that could have won the game," Drinkwitz said. "We had a penalty on special teams on the last drive that gave them 15 yards for no reason. After the fact, after the whistle is blown, penalty. That's a discipline issue that comes back to the head football coach.

"Offensively, we had two turnovers. We kicked a field goal in the red zone because we have a negative play on a first-and-10 call. Those are things that have to get corrected for everybody. So this is not a defensive problem."

Drinkwitz sees the trends first-hand and knows his profession is result-driven, a piggy bank that demands to be restocked at most times quicker than supply allows. The 38-year-old has still coached only 14 games in Columbia, barely more than a usual regular season.

The only thing that can elevate Missouri back to the mission it set forth for 2021 is winning. That could resume Saturday.

"Everybody can point out issues. It's how we find solutions. And for me, that's my job, is to find out, 'How do I get this whole organization running in the right way?'" Drinkwitz said. "... It's easy. It really is. It's easy, because you just go back to work. You go back and work on fundamentals, you go back and talk about the things that really affected the game, talk about things that you can control.

"Look, offenses are good these days. They're really good; they're going to find ways to attack weaknesses and they're going score. My job's to score one more point than the opponent, and we had that opportunity. We didn't get it done.

"So there's a lot of ways to improve and it's not just one side of the ball. It's all phases and that's what we're going to do."

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

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