COLUMBIA — Missouri football coach Eliah Drinkwitz called Saturday evening's scrimmage the "final final of fall camp," an effort to simulate the feeling of a Saturday game day as accurately as possible.
That meant a pregame team meal, mental exercises and warmups to prepare on Faurot Field, with the scrimmage starting at about 6 p.m., the same time the Tigers will kick off the season against Alabama on Sept. 26. Missouri put its finishing touches on the inward-focused fall camp and will begin preparing for their first game when practice resumes Tuesday.
Drinkwitz said Saturday evening on Zoom he wanted the team to get used to the feel of a game day, including substitution packages, special teams work and specific scenarios meant to challenge the offense and defense.
The defense earned another glowing review from Drinkwitz, which necessarily meant the offense wasn't as crisp as he would have liked.
He pointed specifically to defensive ends Darius Robinson and Tre Williams as players who registered multiple sacks, and safety Martez Manuel ended the scrimmage with an interception.
"Defensively, had a great night tonight, they had three turnovers and a lot of sacks, really got pressure up to the quarterback," Drinkwitz said. "Offensively we're going to have to do a better job protecting the quarterback, and the quarterback's going to have to do a great job of throwing the football away, and tonight we just didn't get those done."
Drinkwitz also said Missouri had a positive coronavirus test Friday afternoon and provided some insight on quarantining protocols. Positive tests and close contacts — in the case of this one positive test, three individuals within the football program — are required to quarantine for 14 days, which means all three will miss the Tigers' season opener against the Crimson Tide, which is still two weeks away. Anyone who records a positive test result or is forced to quarantine as a result of close contact from today until Sept. 26 will also be unavailable for the Alabama game.
"That's an interesting dynamic, to be two weeks out and know that you can't get anybody back, it's pretty interesting," Drinkwitz said.
The program has seven total active cases in different stages of the quarantine process, according to Drinkwitz.
For the left side of Missouri's offensive line, coronavirus and injuries have been a problem.
"I've had five starting left guards in the last five days," Drinkwitz said. "It's unlike anything I've ever seen, and it's truly, you can say 'next man up mentality', John Anderson said it to me the other day, 'The more you can do, the more you can do.' Like I told our team, nobody really cares about the excuse, they just expect the performance.
"Whether it's the fifth left guard or the first left guard, they're gonna expect that the performance meets their expectation; we've got a lot of work to do in order to meet that expectation."
On the injury front, Drinkwitz said he expects graduate transfer wide receiver Damon Hazelton (soft tissue injury) to return to full activity Tuesday.
Drinkwitz's former program Appalachian State beat Charlotte 35-20 to open its season Saturday afternoon, and Drinkwitz praised his former Sun Belt colleagues Billy Napier (Louisiana) and Blake Anderson (Arkansas State) for their wins Saturday against Kansas State and Iowa State, respectively.
He wasn't just watching the games to see the scores, though. Several FBS teams have stumbled out of the gate, particularly Navy, which lost 55-3 at home to BYU last week. Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo took full blame for his team's struggles in physicality and tackling, saying his strict interpretations of practice restrictions hampered his team on the field, something Drinkwitz took note of.
"I think fundamentals, tackling and ball security, are really showing up in every game," Drinkwitz said. "Who's playing with the best ball security, who's got the best fundamentals and who's tackling the best. I absolutely expect that it's going to be kind of what we're seeing, because there's a fine line as a coach on how much physicality do you use in the preseason and risk injury, but how much do you not do is maybe alluded to, and then you're not prepared for the first game.
"That's the magic of coaching. Obviously for us, not having spring, not being able to work with our guys, having an un-traditional fall camp, I think this is practice 17 for us. It's going to be interesting. I think the things that we gotta control is our physicality, our ball security and tackling."
Drinkwitz offered no comment on the transfer of backup quarterback Taylor Powell, who did not crack the starting rotation in the new offensive system. The Tigers have three remaining scholarship QBs in Shawn Robinson, Connor Bazelak and true freshman Brady Cook, as well as walk-on Jack Samsel.
Missouri also has Micah Wilson, who converted from quarterback to wide receiver last season, as well as several current skill position players who were quarterbacks in high school, including wide receivers Keke Chism, Jalen Knox and Kris Abrams-Draine, in the event of injury or quarantine.