Missouri’s depth chart was burned and banished. The downtrodden defensive line needed a new lease on life. There was a noticeable absence of spirit in the MU camp.
Eliah Drinkwitz called his players’ effort into question after the Tennessee matchup Oct. 2. He had no such qualms Tuesday as he reflected on Saturday’s win against North Texas.
“After reviewing the game film, (I) was really proud of the way our guys competed. There were people questioning, and obviously on film we questioned some of the effort from the previous week, so we wanted to get that off the table. ... I think we absolutely did that.”
It started with simple questions.
“What are you willing to live with?” Drinkwitz asked. “When you look yourself in the mirror tonight, when you lay yourself down in bed, what’s your standard? What are you OK with? That’s what we’re asking ourself right now.”
The head coach has made a point of avoiding finger-pointing, noting that MU has had problems on either side of the ball this season. But it was clear for all to see where the Tigers had to make immediate changes in order to improve: the defensive line.
Drinkwitz said that the proof was in the film whether the effort was up to scratch Saturday.
One week after falling to the floor of the FBS in run defense and firing defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, Missouri held the Mean Green to 188 yards rushing — 119 yards better than its average through the first five games of the season.
“Really proud of the way the defensive line and Al Davis really stepped up,” Drinkwitz said. “I thought the D-line was very disruptive, did a tremendous job with negative-yardage plays, with gap control, sacks. Was it perfect? No way. Never gonna get to the perfect game, but you’re always striving for it.”
The refusal to assign blame never rang more true than after the Vols’ visit. Missouri’s offense had the most flat game of its season, as Tyler Badie was held to 64 yards rushing, and Connor Bazelak was picked off twice in a 27-for-44 showing.
The emphasis on effort paid off there, too.
“Tyler Badie’s run in the third quarter was as strong a run as I’ve seen a running back have in a long time,” Drinkwitz said. “That’s heart. That’s heart. Yes, he’s got talent, but that’s (undeniably): ‘I’m not gonna be tackled on this play.’”
And he wasn’t the only individual to earn praise. Javon Foster reminded the head coach of a ticked-off nightclub bouncer.
“On the second drive of the game, we check to an outside zone, and Javon Foster throws the defensive end out of the club, man,” Drinkwitz said. “Like, he could have worked at Willie’s. That’s undeniable effort.”
Trajan Jeffcoat also earned a shoutout for getting underneath a back block, and pressuring North Texas quarterback Austin Aune into a quick throw. Likewise Missouri’s big-man-running, Mekhi Wingo, for turning and chasing the football once the ball was tipped for his pick six.
Drinkwitz wants his team to move forward on an “even keel.” That starts, he said, on the practice field and in meetings. It also extends to staying in the present, remaining focused on what the players can achieve day-by-day and least of all comparing itself to its next opponent, the No. 21 and national-champion-slaying Texas A&M.
“You can’t get too high or too low,” Drinkwitz said. “You can’t get into those emotional swings. So I’m not trying to compare ourselves to anybody else, or saying, ‘Well, we can be like them.’ We just need to be the best versions of Mizzou that we can be.”
But the one-thing-at-a-time mentality is off to a good start. The head coach acknowledged that North Texas wasn’t perfect — and that he has the direct messages and mentions to remind him — but that Missouri is on the road to recovery.
“To me, that’s the response,” Drinkwitz said. “That’s what you have to have. Was it perfect? No. ... But what was good was the effort we played with, was the mentality that we had. We were ready to go when the ball was kicked.”