Why Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz is on the hot seat, clinging to hope and little else with No. 1 Georgia up next
ATHENS — Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz surely feels his seat warming, and last Saturday’s brutal overtime loss at Auburn certainly didn’t help things.
The 17-14 loss to fellow hot seat member Bryan Harsin on The Plains — a defeat that saw Missouri squander three opportunities in the final moments —wasn’t the end of the world for the 2-2 Tigers.
But Missouri football types can likely see the end of the world from where they sit, and another storm is coming at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in the form of No. 1-ranked Georgia (4-0).
“We go back and watch film from our previous matchups, and it’s honestly been amazing how many elite defensive players (Georgia) has had the past two seasons,” Drinkwitz said on the SEC Coaches Teleconference.
“And then you watch tape from this season, and you see even more elite defenders.”
Offensively, Drinkwitz sees improved QB play with Stetson Bennett and a coordinator in Todd Monken that can get it done every which way.
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“He knows how to use his quarterbacks in the run game, he knows how to use the tight ends in the passing game, he knows how to use wide or spread formations,” Drinkwitz said. “He’s got all the passes. He’s got all the runs. He’s got all the tight end stuff.
“So he’s got a really big toolbox, and then obviously he’s got some really talented players.”
Drinkwitz, meanwhile, entered his third season needing to overhaul his offensive backfield with last year’s quarterback and leading rusher moved on.
The Tigers were picked to finish sixth in the SEC East Division at Media Days, Vegs setting the over-under at 5 1/2 wins, so expectations were low to begin with.
And, indeed, this Missouri team faces the prospect of a sub-.500 regular-season finish after 5-5 and 6-7 campaigns Drinkwitz’s first years leading the program.
Drinkwitz might have altered the course had he landed Georgia transfer JT Daniels out of the portal.
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Missouri was once the leader for Daniels, who would have been a game-changer and instead transferred to West Virginia where he has improved the Mountaineers from 88th in the nation in total offense to 18th this season.
Daniels, of course, led the Bulldogs to a 49-14 win over Missouri the last time Georgia traveled to the “Show-Me” State, passing for 299 yards and 3 touchdowns as UGA out-gained the Tigers 615-200 in 2020 amid freezing temperatures.
Drinkwitz, however, couldn’t close that deal when Daniels visited the Columbia campus, so now the 39-year-old head coach is left to wax poetic about a program starting a sophomore QB struggling with 4 TD passes and 4 interceptions through four games.
Former 5-star recruit turned Missouri freshman signee Luther Burden, once viewed as the future of the program, has shown skills with a rushing and punt return touchdown.
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But Burden’s receiver production has been limited; He has just 10 catches for 78 yards and one TD, and he was held without a catch against Auburn.
It has led many to speculate on Burden’s future beyond this season in today’s world of NCAA portal free agency.
Missouri couldn’t complain, as the Tigers themselves took in 19 transfers this offseason.
Drinkwitz is keeping a stiff upper lip, trying hard to say all the right things even as the football skies darken and his team faces early elimination from SEC East Division contention.
“Football is like life, you deal with situations in life, and you just have to keep moving forward,” Drinkwitz said this week.
“Disappointments and losses in this world are not unique to us, as people. That’s kind of the situation with the human condition and the story of the world.”
Disappointments and losses are not, however, the story of Georgia football under Kirby Smart.
Georgia’s lackluster 17-point home win over Mid-American Conference foe Kent State was compounded by a starting defensive back landing a likely suspension after being arrested on DUI charges last Sunday morning.
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Smart, with a 70-man squad traveling to a remote hotel location, will circle the wagons as he says he does every week.
But the Bulldogs can count on more intensity.
Missouri is in Georgia’s way, and Drinkwitz knows a back-breaking home blowout is possible.
But so, too, is an opportunity for immediate redemption should the winds pick up enough to affect the UGA pass game, and the Bulldogs’ roster have key players like A.D. Mitchell, Kenny McIntosh and Ladd McConkey missing or limited by injuries.
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Drinkwitz must cling to that hope, and in his own words, maintain his “faith.”
“To me, adversity always presents an awesome opportunity to really build your own mental toughness,” Drinkwitz said, “and build your faith in a bigger plan.”