Why did Mizzou switch QBs in the fourth quarter? Here's what Eli Drinkwitz said after beating South Carolina
Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz was so content with the result Saturday, he started his postgame news conference with a joke.
"Always good to keep the Mayor's Cup where it belongs, in the city of Columbia," Drinkwitz said. "You like that? I could've gone with either Columbia."
There was plenty to be smiling about after the Tigers defeated the Gamecocks 31-28 for their second Southeastern Conference win of the season. The victory puts Missouri within one win of being bowl-eligible, and technically puts the Tigers within the threshold to be selected for a bowl game thanks to the Academic Progress Rate.
Still, the win wasn't without some drama, as South Carolina cut a 31-14 deficit to 31-28 in just a handful of minutes, while Drinkwitz replaced his starting quarterback for the final drive of the game.
Here's what Drinkwitz said after defeating South Carolina:
It wasn't the prettiest win, especially with nearly blowing a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead.
But Missouri ultimately took care of business. The run defense held stout, which is a sentence that would have seemed impossible to report after the Tennessee game, while Tyler Badie went over 200 yards yet again. Badie closed out the game with a tough final drive, sealing the game with a first down on third-and-3.
"I'm really, really proud of our team," Drinkwitz said. "The first quarter didn't start out the way we wanted. Isaiah McGuire makes a heck of a play. We're able to flip it, go down and score, capture momentum again."
The win puts Missouri at 5-5. One more win clinches a bowl game, meaning the Tigers control their own destiny with Florida and Arkansas looming.
"We are still an incomplete team," Drinkwitz said. "To find a way to win these games is really big, and it puts us in a position in these last two games to find a way to go to a bowl game."
On making the switch from Bazelak to Cook
Seeking to seal the game with a score or a few first downs, Connor Bazelak committed the cardinal sin: a fourth-quarter turnover.
He got picked off on a pass meant for Badie, which he underthrew, allowing South Carolina to cut the Tigers' lead to 31-28 with 4:32 remaining.
Drinkwitz said one thing to Bazelak after that interception.
"We're going with Brady."
Drinkwitz said his switch from Bazelak to Cook was scheme-based. Cook didn't throw a pass, but ran the ball twice for five yards, including a kneel-down.
"I felt like we're going to need the quarterback run," Drinkwitz said. "Connor was wasn't moving the way I wanted him to. And that last pick, we needed somebody who could be able to be a threat with his legs. After that last holding call, or whatever it was, Brady did a nice job of getting us back in a position to get a manageable third."
On the offensive line
Perhaps the most injured group among all the Missouri positions is the offensive line.
The Tigers lost Case Cook for the season and were without Hyrin White Saturday with an ankle sprain.
That didn't stop them from rushing for 258 yards on 5.6 yards per carry.
"So proud of the offensive line," Drinkwitz said. "Bobby Lawrence got the start tonight. He was on scout team last week, and then he got bumped up and was a starter this week. So extremely proud of those guys."
Lawrence, who got the start, left the game after the first series with an injury. That meant moving Connor Wood from right guard to right tackle, and Wood filled in superbly. Javon Foster earned rave reviews from Drinkwitz, too.
Drinkwitz made sure to credit offensive line coach Marcus Johnson.
"We were very limited in what we could call and how we could call it," Drinkwitz said. "Kudos to Marcus Johnson for having those guys ready to play."
On Mookie Cooper
For the first time since his junior year of high school, Mookie Cooper found the end zone.
Cooper took the top off the defense, sliced through the seams and Bazelak hit him for a 60-yard touchdown. Cooper, an Ohio State transfer, has finally arrived.
Soon after, however, he fumbled in the fourth quarter, which led to South Carolina scoring on its ensuing drive. That was Missouri's first lost fumble of the year.
Still, Drinkwitz didn't want that turnover to take away from Cooper's day.
"Disappointed for him to have that," Drinkwitz said. "I know that's uncharacteristic of him, and uncharacteristic for our football team to put the football on the ground like that. But I'm not going to let it outshine his performance and the good things he did."
On the improved run defense
The Tigers impressively held South Carolina to 57 rush yards and a 1.6 yards per rush average. Considering where the run defense was several weeks ago, that's an incredible improvement.
The success was thanks to the defensive line, which recorded three sacks on the day, including a sack fumble that Trajan Jeffcoat recovered for a touchdown in the end zone.
"We're being more structurally sound with how we play the run game, keeping it contained and leveraged," Drinkwitz said. "I think we're tackling better."
On the fast-paced field goal
Near the end of the first half, Missouri threw a pass short of the end zone to Niko Hea.
That play, stopped at the 2-yard line with less than 15 seconds remaining in the half, meant the clock was going to run, and Missouri had no way to stop it. The field-goal team ran onto the field, spotted down and kicked a 19-yard field goal as time expired to go into halftime leading 17-14.
Those three points ended up being the difference in the game.
"We actually practice it on Fridays," Drinkwitz said. "It's called 'Mayday field goal,' and we had an alert. We honestly didn't think any way in the world that pass was going to be be short, or it was going to be incomplete. So for those guys to all recognize it, we said it in the huddle, and to get out there and get that off is pretty good."
Bowl eligibility on the line
Florida is a struggling team right now. The Gators gave up 52 points to a 4-6 FCS team in Stamford after allowing 40 to South Carolina last week.
A win over Florida at Faurot Field would mean Missouri is bowl-eligible. That would mean the program playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2018, while Missouri hasn't won a bowl since the 2014 Citrus Bowl.
COVID-19 took away Missouri's bowl game last year.
The Tigers want to punch their ticket to another one this season.
"That's the whole goal right now," Drinkwitz said. "We've got seniors that deserve an opportunity to go, and we're going to have to all rally together and find a way to play better and get better this week in order to do that."
On the quarterback plan this week
Pulling Bazelak, whom Drinkwitz has committed to when healthy, was a significant move. It opens up speculation about Bazelak losing his starting job heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
"I'll sit down tomorrow and evaluate the tape and look to see who gives us the best chance to win, who's playing the best," Drinkwitz said.