It may be a fresh week, but familiar problems hover over Missouri football.
Eliah Drinkwitz held his first Tuesday press conference in two weeks Tuesday after returning from a bye week that he claimed gave him the opportunity to reflect on what Missouri needs to do to improve in its last five games of the season.
Some of it sounded familiar. As the Tigers get ready to face Vanderbilt on Saturday, Drinkwitz said that they need to continue to improve technique and fundamentals, along with improving his play calling to fit his roster.
But this week, there was more. Penalties, turnovers and slow starts have formed the crux of Missouri’s focus as the season winds toward its final five corners.
“Obviously penalties,” Drinkwitz said. “Penalty yardage in our four losses is very lopsided.”
He wasn’t kidding.
In three SEC games — on the road against Kentucky and at home against Tennessee and Texas A&M — Missouri has given up 29 penalties for 268 yards.
In those same three games, MU’s opposition has given up 10 penalties for 109 yards.
“Lopsided” was again Drinkwitz’s word of choice in describing Missouri’s turnover margin.
While the Tigers rank 32nd of the 130 teams in the FBS with a positive .57 margin — behind only Ole Miss, Alabama and Tennessee in the SEC — when they have turned it over, it’s been costly.
Starting quarterback Connor Bazelak was picked twice in each of the Tennessee and A&M matchups and once against Kentucky. Three of those five interceptions ended in opposition touchdowns and one in a field goal.
Despite that, Drinkwitz remained confident in Bazelak as he traverses through a midseason slump.
“You find out what you’re made of on all sides of it,” Drinkwitz said. “I think we do a good job of making people understand that praise and blame are all the same. You can’t get caught up one way or another ... We’ve got all the faith in the world in (Bazelak), and he’s got faith in himself, but we also have to continue to improve.”
The final area for improvement listed by the head coach is the one that has been the most detrimental in the win/loss column and that the head coach called a combination of all of the above “inhibiting drives.”
The Tigers haven’t held a lead in any of their opening three SEC matchups. Far from it, actually.
Most of their games have been over before they even begun. Missouri was 21 points behind the Aggies and 25 points behind Tennessee through one quarter and 14 behind the Wildcats less than 10 minutes of game time in.
And MU had to do more than ruminate on its performances through the opening seven games. The bye week also brought a trio of unfortunate injuries.
Offensive tackle and team captain Case Cook, defensive end Chris Turner and defensive back Mason Pack will all miss the remainder of the season with injuries.
“Last week was a tough week,” Drinkwitz said. ... “Three great men, three people who represented this university and this football team the right way.”
That might not be the end of it. More injury news potentially could still be on the horizon.
“I don’t know anybody else that’s out for the season, but we’re still dealing with some injuries that occurred,” Drinkwitz said. ... “It’s that time of year. I don’t think it’s abnormal to me or Mizzou, it’s just college football. It’s a physical game.”
Missouri’s injury report is scheduled for release Thursday.
But game day struggles and injury woes don’t bring an abrupt halt to the season. Five games are left on the calendar.
Missouri again didn’t release a depth chart ahead of the Vanderbilt game, and likely won’t for the remainder of the season. That could leave the door open for some new faces to cement starting roles.
“I sense a lot of people that want to improve, want to get better,” Drinkwitz said. “(They) understand we’re not maybe where we wanted to be, but there’s still a lot of opportunity left for us ... And whether it was true freshmen or fifth-year seniors or COVID-seniors, I think everybody really attacked that.”
Cook could return next season
With the extra year granted to players due to the pandemic, Cook still meets the requirements to return for an extra year of eligibility.
The offensive lineman played in four games in 2021 as he battled injury throughout most of the season.
And Drinkwitz didn’t rule out a return.
“It’s still a possibility,” Drinkwitz said. “That’s gonna be something that Case is ultimately going to have to decide. I don’t want him to make that decision in the emotion of the injury, and I don’t want to put any words in his mouth or ideas in his head. It’s going to be 100% his opportunity to decide with his family what’s in the best interests for him, and we’ll go from there.”
Broncos waive former Tiger Crockett, open practice window for Okwuegbunam to return from his injury
The Denver Broncos waived former Missouri RB Damarea Crockett and opened the 21-day practice window for former MU tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (hamstring) to return from IR.