COLUMBIA — Missouri was almost done with preparing its game plan for Saturday's rivalry game against Arkansas when the Tigers and head coach Eli Drinkwitz, a Natural State native, were informed coronavirus protocols within the Razorbacks program necessitated a postponement.
The Southeastern Conference tweaked the schedule, postponing the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game this weekend to give Missouri an opponent. With open dates Dec. 12 and 19, the Tigers will play Georgia on one date and Arkansas on the other, and Tennessee-Vanderbilt will also be played one of those days.
Missouri (3-3) and the Commodores (0-7) will kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday on SEC Network.
After getting in at 3:30 a.m. after a 17-10 road win against South Carolina, the Tigers coaching staff began to prepare for Arkansas before Drinkwitz got wind the game was in danger from Hogs coach Sam Pittman.
"Coach Pittman, I will give him credit, called me Monday morning, let me know that their numbers were really close and was just giving me a heads up," Drinkwitz said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "Didn't let that affect my day, because I knew that we needed to prepare either way, and got a phone call, you know about 4:55 o'clock-ish that said, 'Hey, we're going to be making a switch with the schedule.'"
After the schedule change and the workload of designing a new game plan, Drinkwitz circled back to Pittman, whose team is now off this week.
"I sent coach Pittman a text last night at about 11:45 and said his butt better be awake. He can't be at home sleeping since we had to change our game plan," Drinkwitz said with a laugh. "He thought that was pretty funny."
Missouri reported no new positives from Sunday's round of testing after flying back from South Carolina, and Drinkwitz said he expected to get three players back from contact tracing protocol. Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, who watched the game on TV from Columbia, Mo., while in quarantine, will also be back for this weekend.
The Tigers played with less than 53 healthy scholarship players against the Gamecocks. Missouri was eager to play after the Georgia game was postponed and a bye week put the team at three weeks between games. The team turned in a 59-man roster of scholarship players available this week to the SEC.
"One thing we all know now, with COVID, that it hat doesn't matter, there's no excuses, the product on the field is going to speak for itself," Drinkwitz said. "There's coaches been let go. There's really no, you know, we're playing a game; the expectation is that you put a good product on the field or there's going to be consequences. So it is what it is. We've got to do good work."
After a second half in which Missouri's offense gained just 89 yards, including 32 yards and one first down in the fourth quarter, Drinkwitz shouldered the blame, saying he was too conservative and needed to call plays the offense was more familiar with and could execute better.
"I was too adamant on trying to run the ball instead of utilizing some of the same pass concepts that got us going in the first half, and didn't give us opportunities to be in manageable third downs," he said.
The Tigers were 8-of-16 on third downs in the game but 2-of-7 in the second half, and the average distance to go on third down in the second half was nearly eight yards.
Drinkwitz said defensive lineman Kobie Whiteside, who hasn't played since the LSU game with an injury, has been cleared by the team's medical staff but is still working to make sure he can go at game speed. Backup quarterback Shawn Robinson, who has also not played since the LSU game, will still be out this week due to contact tracing and was not listed on the team's depth chart. True freshman Brady Cook is the second-string QB on this week's depth chart behind redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak.
Offensive linemen Xavier Delgado and Larry Borom, as well as defensive lineman Trajan Jeffcoat, were included on that 59-man roster but their status for Saturday's game has not been set.
Luke Griffin (left guard), Cannon York (defensive end) and JC Carlies (cornerback) all made their first career starts against South Carolina. York, a former walk-on from Lebanon, Mo., recovered a fumble late in the Florida game at the end of October and got his first tackle in that game, and earned his first career start last Saturday. Griffin played in place of Dylan Spencer, who started a few games to back up Delgado but elected to transfer earlier this week.
Drinkwitz said, while he doesn't like speaking for others, said Spencer transfered to be closer to home in Mississippi.
"I think he's an outstanding player, outstanding person. I know we miss him," Drinkwitz said. "We wish he would have stayed and chose to stay, but obviously, he's got to do what he believes is in the best interest of his future. But I love the young man and wish him all the best in his future."