Looking forward, looking back …
So, you think this next one will be easy?
Tennessee is favored by 10 over Missouri, noon Saturday at Neyland Stadium, tickets available if you wear a mask.
No problem winning this one, you say. The Tigers project as one of the softer two assignments on a difficult schedule.
Fair warning: Lose it and see what happens. Be quick with ear plugs. There will be screams of anguish.
The Volunteers’ attractive success streak, carried over from last season, has confused national analysts. What experts hear about seven in a row doesn’t match what they see. Tennessee won at South Carolina and went backward in the AP poll. Perhaps you understand.
Last Saturday, while the Vols and Gamecocks were tied in the fourth quarter, Alabama was toying with Missouri. It was 35-6 and reserves were in.
Missouri’s main man from Memphis, Tyler Badie, got away from a Tide linebacker and sped 54 yards for a catch-and-run TD. Second quarterback Conner Bazelak added a 7-yard scoring scamper on the final play to make the score closer than the game. Nick Saban was deeply distressed.
Maybe you remember Badie from his previous appearance at Neyland. A Vol tried to tackle him and Tyler almost ran out of his pants. Responsible parents supposedly covered the eyes of girl children.
The Missouri future looks better than the present. Eliah Drinkwitz, 37, is one of the more intriguing coaches in the SEC. Friends and foes agree he is smart, very smart. He was not born into the league. He is not a cutting from a famous football tree. He has a $4 million contract but no silver spoon.
He came with two years of head coaching experience, last season at Appalachian State and, long before that, one season leading a middle school seventh-grade team.
In between, Eli was an assistant at Arkansas State, Boise State and North Carolina State. As close as he had ever been to the big time was as a quality control aide at Auburn.
Drinkwitz grew up in Alma, Ark. He had limited athletic ability. A friend said “What he lacked in size, he made up in slowness.”
He didn’t look like a star player. He wore glasses. He might have been mistaken for a bookworm. He was voted the top male student in the school. He worked really hard in the weight room and made all-state.
Not incidentally, he married a cheerleader, Lindsey Sivils, Miss Alma High, one year older. She spotted the winner in her rearview mirror.
Nobody ever seemed surprised by his accomplishments. When he was 7, in little boys’ baseball, the coach, Marty Belcher, figured him out.
“He’s going to be a good coach, a good preacher or a politician.”
Friends say he’s all three. He was student body president at Arkansas State. He is forthcoming about his Christian faith. He asks players and fans to buy into his vision of something greater than they can see.
Drinkwitz was not disappointed in Missouri’s opener.
“I saw a lot of fight. I really did. I thought our guys answered the bell. I don’t think it was an issue of not being good enough. I thought our guys fought.”
There are some tough Tigers.
Larry Rountree III is sixth in Missouri rushing history. Badie led the 2019 Tigers in receptions. Linebacker Nick Bolten led the SEC in tackles last season.
Texas Christian transfer Shawn Robinson will likely start at quarterback. Drinkwitz brought in a pair of graduate transfer receivers, 6-4 Keke Chism from Division II Angelo State and former all-ACC Damon Hazelton from Virginia Tech.
Slot receiver Jalen Knox had five catches for 63 yards against Alabama.
Does the term “slot receiver” trigger fire alarms? How to defend that position is undoubtedly the subject of the week on the Tennessee practice field.
We hear the Tennessee offense has been involved in third-down discussions. One for 11 just won’t get it. Jarrett Guarantano has received or will receive additional instruction. Perhaps somebody will remind the offensive line of expectations.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org