Eli Drinkwitz was the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at Boise State (2015) and North Carolina State (2016-2018) earlier in his career.
He soon was hired as the head coach at Appalachian State. His career arc kept climbing after a 12-1 year in his only season with the Mountaineers. The SEC came calling for Drinkwitz to lead Missouri.
His Mizzou bio touts him as one of the top offensive minds in college football. His Tuesday evening Zoom press briefing did nothing to dissuade that label.
Drinkwitz, 37, was calm. Funny at times. Sarcastic even. At just the right spots.
That was evident early as the Mizzou beat reporter pool tried to figure out how the one COVID-19 positive test and the subsequent contract tracing had affected a specific position group on his team heading into Saturday’s (fingers crossed for all) still scheduled clash for Georgia.
“I am able to,” Drinkwitz said when asked if he could specify which side of the ball or position was hit by that positive test and ensuing tracing. “But I am not going to.”
In between all of that, he unraveled a mystery that has confounded the Georgia beat reporter tribe this fall. Drinkwitz unraveled the identity of the 2020 Bulldog offense.
“They still have got to function within the framework of what their offensive weapons are,” he said. “They are committed to establishing the run, play-action shots and spreading the ball out on third down.”
Voila. The proverbial opposing head coach Webster’s definition of the Georgia offense. Layered inside the middle of a media session with at least one “Anchorman” reference.
He pointed out his staff would not be falling for any “smokescreen” about UGA preparing three or four quarterbacks to take on his 2-3 Tigers.
“I highly doubt they are going to rotate four quarterbacks and expect to be prepared for a game week,” Drinkwitz said. “It is hard enough to get one quarterback ready for a game. So I think that is probably more of a smokescreen.”
“I’m pretty confident we know who is going to play and then how that is going to go,” Drinkwitz said. “So I’m not falling for we are going to practice four quarterbacks throughout the week. I mean if you did that, how would you prepare for third downs? How would they get enough reps for third downs in the red zone to be ready?”
That will also include wasting practice periods preparing for QBs with contrasting skill sets like JT Daniels and D’Wan Mathis.
“I think each offense has a unique identity based on what they are able to execute,” he said. “So let’s say that ya’ll are saying that he is going to play either D’Wan Mathis or JT Daniels or they are going to stay with Stetson Bennett IV, right? That’s really the conversation we are having, right? Well, Stetson Bennett and JT Daniels’ offense is pretty much very similar.”
“We’ve seen what D’Wan Mathis has done in two half-games. So it is not like they are going to roll out there and run the triple option because D’Wan Mathis is in the game.”
Drinkwitz was a manga cum laude and a student body president at Arkansas Tech.
Nobody asked him about what Americans learned for next time about absentee balloting or even the mass distribution supply chain holes for the eventual coronavirus vaccine.
It was all about a football game planning for UGA on Saturday. Hopefully. Maybe.
“It is not rocket science,” he added. “They still have got the same 10 guys around them. If you don’t match personnel, he is going to get in ’23’ personnel and run a sweep on the first play of the game and go 75 yards. Whoever plays quarterback they still have the same offensive structure and DNA that they have shown the first five games. One just happens to be a little bit different and provides a different threat. But I don’t think all of sudden you are going to see Georgia offensively be running spread option or all of a sudden you are going to see them in an “Air Raid” system if another quarterback is in there.”
Drinkwitz then smiled like he had a cheat code to slow Bo Jackson down in an old school Tecmo Bowl game.
“Maybe they do,” he said while throwing his hands up. “Crud. Awesome. We’ll adjust. It is 2020.”
He said that not because he was feeling extra bold. It was just a matter of the fact that Missouri knows it will have to adjust to being without another pocket of players against UGA. That course of events also dominated preparation for Alabama and LSU earlier this season.
“We’ll just go back to the first three weeks of the season when we had those guys out,” he said. “I think we had several out for ‘Bama. We had several out for Tennessee and we had several out for LSU.”
Missouri will be without redshirt sophomore LB Chad Bailey, freshman OL Dylan Spencer and redshirt senior defensive lineman Markell Utsey in the first half against Georgia. That stems from their suspensions for the role in the first half brawl in their last game against Florida.
Missouri was down a similar amount of players specific to COVID-19 at the defensive tackle and wide receiver positions heading into their 45-41 home win against LSU.
Game planning: Facing UGA minus Jordan Davis and Richard LeCounte
What is it like having to move the ball on Georgia without Jordan Davis and Richard LeCounte III? He seemed blissful to discuss that turn of events for this game.
“You’ve got two first-round draft picks,” Drinkwitz said. “You’ve got erasers in there. [Richard LeCounte] is an incredible player. I mean you look at Tennessee [film] and they run the reverse and you look at it and are like ‘Wow, this is going to have a big play’ and he tracks the ball from the other side of the field.”
“He makes two unbelievable interceptions against Arkansas and Alabama. He has a knack for the football. He can fit downhill. He can play free safety. He can match versus any of the guys that Alabama threw out there playing man-to-man. He gives you incredible flexibility to call your defense.”
Drinkwitz followed that up with a Jordan Davis critique that should go in his NFL Draft bio.
“Number 99 is an incredible space eater,” Drinkwitz said. “You can play ‘cheat’ boxes which is you can play a five-and-a-half man box or six-man box knowing he can two-gap anybody you put out there. That guy is a totally different ballgame.”
Remember when Smart lamented about being “dinged up” this week to open his Monday presser? Missouri has seen all of that, too.
The Tigers are also going to benefit from likely not having to deal with sophomore safety Lewis Cine (concussion protocol) on Saturday, too.
“Those two guys being gone man, crud, I mean [number] 16 is as physical a free safety,” Drinkwitz said. “He plays cut, weak-side safety. He plays cut as good as anybody. I mean he knocked one of Auburn’s guards down when he was trying to pull. That dude is as good of safety and those two guys are as good as they are in the league.”
“That is different when they are not in there,” he said. “Those are good players. They have got really good players behind them. I just don’t know if they have got the same amount of experience.”
It seemed like the mystery behind Georgia’s personnel at defensive back and safety was weighing harder on his thoughts this week than the revolving first-team and second-team reps at quarterback.
“That’s why they call us ‘coach’ and it is to problem-solve,” he said. “We have got to figure it out. I don’t think anybody is going to give me a free pass because we got six people or seven, eight, 12 people out with COVID. Whatever. They are not giving anybody free passes. You got to get ready to go. Figure it out.”
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