Missouri head football coach Eli Drinkwitz was thrown right into the fire and flames in his first game at the Tigers’ helm.
Stunted offseason? Less time to install a new system and almost entirely new group of coaches? Young roster? Too bad: Here’s the No. 2 Crimson Tide, led by one of college football’s best in Nick Saban.
"I'm proud of this football team to even have a football game tonight. With all the different things that we've battled the last seven months, hats off to both Alabama and us to field a team," Drinkwitz said following the Tigers’ 38-19 loss at Faurot Field.
"(We’ve) got a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball. And that's what we're going to start tomorrow."
It’s not just what’s on the field that Drinkwitz has to consider. The COVID-related absence of defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison served as a reminder of how delicate normalcy in 2020 football really is.
"There’s no magic formula to it," Drinkwitz said when asked about the effects of COVID on game plans. "We just wake up every day and then deal with the results."
Here are highlights from Drinkwitz’s postgame remarks, edited for clarity and length:
Q: What led to your decision to start Shawn Robinson at quarterback, and how do you evaluate his performance?
A: "I thought Shawn gave us the best chance to move the ball with his legs. And you know, he'd played in some games before. So he had that experience against some of these guys, and I thought he handled it well. Both quarterbacks (Robinson and Connor Bazelak) did some really good things ... but they’ve got to eliminate the negative plays in order for us to be successful offensively."
When you look at both quarterbacks, is it a situation where every week you kind of decide what to do? Do you like what they give as a tandem?
"Yeah, I don't know. I hadn't thought about anything about moving forward. I worry about tonight, we'll watch the tape and we'll figure out what we're doing."
Your team was able to move the ball today. How much have you talked about just finishing drives?
"Yeah, I mean, we moved the ball just fine. But you’ve got to stay out of negative plays. I mean, we can't take sacks. When we have a chance to execute on fourth downs, we’ve got to execute the block. It's all about execution. ... We can't have self-inflicted wounds."
The defense struggled a little bit to get off the field on third down – especially in the first half. What do you chalk that up to?
"I mean, saying ’a little bit’ is being nice – they were 9-for-14 on third downs. That's that's not good enough. We talked about (how) that was going to be the key to winning the game: how we did on third down. We started fast with a three-and-out, and then after that we just didn't do enough."
This is the first time we've seen receiver Jalen Knox working out of a slot a lot. What do you think of his performance this week?
"I thought Jalen played well. We moved him all over the field. We moved him to slot receiver, we had him out as a perimeter receiver. I thought him and (Dominic) Gicinto really stood out in a positive way tonight. I know that Dom had a couple of catches and you know, we’ve got to do a better job giving those guys chances down the field."
What did you see from running back Larry Rountree against Alabama?
"I thought (he) ran really hard, and I’ve got to get him more runs ... He's a fighter. I mean, that's the No. 1 thing: He's a fighter. He runs tough. He runs physical. It means the world to him, and I’ve got to do a better job feeding him."
What is the condition of cornerback Jarvis Ware?
"I briefly visited with him after the game. (It) looked like a knee injury, and I don't think it's serious. But we'll take an MRI tomorrow and we'll get the results back and then go from there."
How did the atmosphere of playing a game during a pandemic affect everything? Was it what you expected?
"I have no idea. I haven't haven't had a Faurot Field home-field advantage before. So I don't have any basis of comparison. I was glad that we were actually able to get to play football, but like I said, I’ve got no basis for comparison."