COLUMBIA — Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz was roundly dissatisfied with his team's performance on the field last Saturday in a 38-19 loss to Alabama, both immediately after the game and during Tuesday's weekly press conference with the benefit of hindsight and film review.
"We didn't do enough to win the game at any position," Drinkwitz said Tuesday. "And there's no moral victories, there's no 'We fought hard' I mean, that's the expectation. 'Always compete' is the expectation, that's the bare minimum for what we're trying to do here at Mizzou and what we're trying to accomplish.
"So we're not going to be satisfied for just being in the fight. We're here to compete to win the game, and before we can win the game we've got to keep from beating ourselves and those were the things that showed up on tape. And it's not just one person it's off everybody, and it starts with me and works our way down to the staff and the players."
The Tigers will get their opportunity to improve Saturday morning when they face No. 21 Tennessee (1-0) at 11 a.m. in Knoxville, Tenn. Last year in Columbia, Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano amassed a career-high 415 yards passing in a 24-20 win, as Missouri played most of the game without both starting cornerbacks.
Guarantano will start again this week as a redshirt senior, as the Tigers look to recover from a poor defensive start to last week's game. Alabama scored touchdowns on its second, third and fourth offensive possessions to take a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter and quickly put the game out of reach.
The Crimson Tide ran 27 plays for 229 yards and 21 points in those first four drives, averaging 8.48 yards per play; the rest of the game, the offense ran 41 plays for 191 yards and 17 points, averaging 4.66 yards per play, slightly ahead of Missouri's game average of 4.4 yards per play.
Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said Wednesday he didn't want to "over-react" in his assessment of the game because of the quality of the opponent, and was encouraged by a number of things, including the play of young corners Ennis Rakestraw and Ishmael Burdine.
"I thought in the first half, we started fast obviously with the three-and-out and Tyree (Gillespie) making a big hit on DeVonta Smith, which was huge," Walters said. "And then I felt like the speed of the game was a little bit of a shock. It's hard to simulate game speed before Game 1, especially when Game 1 is somebody of Alabama's caliber.
"But I thought we settled in in the second half and were able to get some stops, got a turnover, got a short field goal and held 'em to a field goal at the end. There's definitely something to build off of. We corrected the mistakes that we made, and I was happy that we didn't have that many mental errors, it was more technique errors."
Consistent tackling was a plus for Missouri, led by middle linebacker Devin Nicholson's 10 total tackles and a half tackle for loss. Safety Martez Manuel had seven tackles, 3 for loss in his first start at a new position, and the Tigers racked up nine tackles for loss, their most in a game since recording nine against Southeast Missouri a year ago and the most Alabama surrendered in a game since 2017 against Texas A&M.
Starting cornerback Jarvis Ware, who left in the first quarter of the Alabama game with a knee injury, is day-to-day and hopeful for Saturday's game at Tennessee. An MRI Sunday did not reveal a serious injury, and Ware was still listed at the top of Tuesday's depth chart.
Drinkwitz said Tuesday he did not know if any of the seven coronavirus ineligibles for last week's game would be available against the Volunteers.
In answering a question about whether he thought parity in the Southeastern Conference was heightened or reduced because of the pandemic during Wednesday's teleconference, Drinkwitz said he couldn't really answer because he didn't know anyone else's coronavirus numbers.
"There's no uniform system on how we report it or people talk about it, other than when coaches have said something," Drinkwitz said. "Each week we have no idea what's going on with other teams. It's kind of a free-for-all as far as that goes."
Missouri welcomed Trajan Jeffcoat back to the team at the end of August after more than a year away from playing in a college football game, and the defensive end/outside linebacker recorded three tackles, including a TFL, in his first game back.
After a promising freshman season in 2018, Jeffcoat missed most of fall camp and the first three games of the 2019 season with an injury before he stepped away from the university. After re-enrolling at Missouri and a meeting including Walters, defensive line coach Brick Haley and the team captains, he was allowed to rejoin the team.
"Trajan rejoined the team late August, early September, has done an excellent on his own working out, staying in shape," Drinkwitz said Tuesday. "And coach Haley did a really nice job of getting re-acclimated to the schemes and understanding what we're doing and getting him ready. And then I thought coach Walters did a nice job of incorporating him just enough in the game for him to be able to make an impact and, you know, we're excited about his growth as a player and what he brings to our football team."
Jeffcoat's absence has been kept private for personal reasons, but he has done everything asked of him to return to the program.
Returning has meant a lot to Jeffcoat, but has also resonated with his teammates.
"He was such a popular guy on the team, so when he came back, there was a couple guys crying tears of joy, you know what I'm saying, like literally, crying tears of joy," Walters said. "That's how special of a person he is and how much he meant to the locker room. He's infectious in the locker room, so we were fired up to get him back. It makes our job in the secondary a lot easier when he's on the field."
On offense, Drinkwitz said he liked what he saw out of both quarterbacks who played, while including both Shawn Robinson and Connor Bazelak into the theme that improvement is constant and applies to everyone.
He also doesn't think Missouri will get to a point where just one quarterback is taking every offensive snap.
"I'm comfortable playing multiple guys meaningful snaps throughout the season, and I just, I don't think this is going to be a typical season, like we've ever had before," Drinkwitz said, referencing positive tests in football at Notre Dame and the NFL's Vikings and Titans teams, and in general in Miami-Dade County. "I don't think we have enough data to think that we're gonna be able to go to the entire season with one quarterback. So, I mean ultimately I think both guys played well both guys competed, both guys gave us exactly what we expected them to give us and both guys will get reps moving forward."
Linebacker Aubrey Miller Jr. opted out of the season this week, according to Drinkwitz. Miller was third on last week's depth chart at weakside linebacker and played sparingly against the Crimson Tide, and is the seventh opt-out this year, including receivers Cjay Boone and Maurice Massey, offensive linemen Thalen Robinson and Jack Buford, defensive back Chris Shearin and defensive lineman Chris Daniels.