Mizzou's Eli Drinkwitz on last year’s 62-24 loss to Vols: ‘It definitely happened’

Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Cedric Tillman’s catch of a 24-yard touchdown pass from Hendon Hooker midway through the third quarter gave Tennessee a 55-17 lead in last year’s 62-24 rout of Missouri in Columbia.

It was the overnight jump-start that turned Josh Heupel's Tennessee Volunteers into one of the most feared offenses in college football.

It was also humiliating for the home team.

The Vols were 2-2 last season and had been held scoreless for the final 41 minutes of a 38-14 loss at Florida when they traveled to Missouri looking to get back above .500. They did so convincingly, rushing for 458 yards and racking up 683 yards overall in demolishing the Tigers 62-24 at Faurot Field.

For Eli Drinkwitz, the most lopsided loss of a head-coaching career that began in 2019 at Appalachian State isn't easily flushed as his Tigers travel to Knoxville later this week.

"It definitely happened, and it definitely was something that as a coach you always remember, being embarrassed like that," Drinkwitz said Wednesday. "It's not something that we've discussed this week or this year, and it has no bearing on this game from our standpoint. They don't get to carry any of those scores into this year's game.

"We don't get to carry any of our turnovers into this year's game, so it's a new game and a new opportunity."

Tennessee scored on its first nine possessions a year ago, grabbing a 28-3 lead after the first quarter and taking a 45-10 lead into halftime. The Vols averaged a staggering 11.5 yards per snap during the first 30 minutes.

Hendon Hooker completed 15 of 19 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns for Tennessee, while former running back Tiyon Evans reeled off a 92-yard scoring scamper on his way to a 156-yard afternoon, but it's just a memory this week.

"Last year has nothing to do with the game that comes Saturday," Vols fifth-year senior safety Trevon Flowers said. "Every Saturday can have a new winner, so last year has nothing to do with it."

Missouri finished 106th in total defense a year ago under coordinator Steve Wilks, who spent just one season in Columbia and is now the interim head coach for the NFL's Carolina Panthers. Drinkwitz replaced him with LSU linebackers coach Blake Baker, who needed no time to provide an upgrade in talent.

The Tigers landed seven defenders from Power Five programs through the transfer portal, including former Florida linebacker Ty'Ron Hopper and former Clemson safety Joseph Charleston. Hopper has 48 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss through Mizzou's 4-5 start that includes a 2-4 mark in Southeastern Conference play, while Charleston has collected 42 tackles and an interception.

Mizzou now has the nation's No. 13 defense, yielding just 304.1 yards per game after last season's unit surrendered 434.7.

"They've got some different personnel from the previous year on the roster as far as who they're using and where they're using them," Heupel said. "The guys who were there a year ago have done a great job of developing. I think they have great gap integrity, and they're handling everything that offenses are throwing at them.

"Their front seven is extremely physical, and they make it difficult to run the football. They've been really efficient against the pass as well. They're just playing at a really high level. It's a huge test for us."

The two head coaches agree that delving into last year's surprise blowout in preparation for this week's matchup likely won't reveal much at this point.

"We did an offseason study on all the teams that gave us issues on both sides of the ball, so we've obviously looked at that game," Drinkwitz said. "They're a different team, obviously, and Hendon is playing at a really high level, and I don't even think Jalin (Hyatt) played against us last year very much. There were some things they did differently because of a different defensive scheme that we trotted out there in the first quarter, so we're aware of what they did to us and what we need to do to try to stop it."

Said Heupel: "With the new coordinator, they are so different. Some of the personnel cut-ups you may revert back to as far as our guys versus their guys at certain spots, but for the most part it's a new scheme, a new coordinator, a new defense and a new attitude, so you focus on this year's product."

In the money

Drinkwitz is making $4 million this season but has agreed to an extension through 2027 and a bump to $6 million next year, this despite his 15-17 record that includes a 10-14 mark in SEC games.

"A lot of the coaching market in the SEC market got reset last year," Drinkwitz said, "and as a sign of continual commitment, not only do we have the southeast end zone facility that was built and the indoor that's being finished now, we also have the resources in place and the pressure and expectation for us to match the resources that are given.

"I look forward to the challenge of continuing to upgrade Mizzou football in this tough conference."

Heupel, by comparison, is making $5 million now and has the No. 5 team in the College Football Playoff rankings after being No. 1 last week.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.