'May the force be with you': What Eli Drinkwitz said after Mizzou beat Florida

Chris Kwiecinski
Columbia Daily Tribune

There was a lightsaber with Missouri athletics branding available to Tigers head coach Eli Drinkwitz for his postgame press conference Saturday night.

Drinkwitz unveiled it at the perfect time.

The winning coach pulled his hood over his head and drew the prop.

More:Final score and recap: Mizzou walks off Florida 24-23 in overtime

"May the force be with you," Drinkwitz said, as he walked off the podium, returning the favor after the Darth Vader costume Florida coach Dan Mullen wore after the Gators' win over the Tigers last season.

That was last season. This year, Missouri is laughing on its way to a bowl game after a 24-23 win over Florida in overtime.

Here's what Drinkwitz said after Missouri beat Florida to earn bowl eligibility:

Nov 20, 2021; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Missouri Tigers head coach Eli Drinkwitz signals a play against the Florida Gators in overtime at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Opening statement

Drinkwitz took a second to take the game in.

"It's a good, old-fashioned SEC football game, right?" Drinkwitz said. "(Both teams) defensively are playing really well. Both lines of scrimmage were a war."

Drinkwitz credited quarterback Connor Bazelak, who withstood boos from the home crowd. Bazelak passed for 165 yards and a touchdown and didn't commit a turnover.

Tyler Badie, the powerhouse of the offense, did serious damage late in the game and finished with 146 rushing yards and a touchdown.

"Really fortunate Tyler Badie came on very strong," Drinkwitz said.

More:Mizzou defeats Florida 24-23 in overtime to earn bowl eligibility

On the game-winning two-point play

After Badie scored to bring Missouri within one, the idea of going for it was always in mind for Drinkwitz.

He laid out the situation: have a chance to end the game right then and there, or go for two when it's in the opposing team's hands when to extend or win the game.

"Why have to go back on offense and then have to go for two," Drinkwitz said. "You might as well do it then."

So he did.

Nov 20, 2021; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Missouri Tigers tight end Daniel Parker Jr. (82) catches a pass for a two point conversion against the Florida Gators to win the game in overtime at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Drinkwitz called timeout and dialed up the winning play. It was a play that doesn't have success if Bazelak doesn't find Daniel Parker Jr., as the Florida rush was bearing down on him in a hurry.

"Connor made a hell of a play," Drinkwitz said. "The first read is a fast flat by Tyler and the end went really wide, which then took away our second read, which was the under by Barrett (Banister)."

Parker was originally one of the last reads on that play, but Bazelak actually threw it to him when Missouri practiced the same play on Friday. 

"That's interesting," Drinkwitz said. "Practice execution makes game-day reality."

Drinkwitz said he doesn't remember much of the immediate postgame celebration after Parker Jr. caught the game-winner.

"It's all a blur, man, it's all a blur," Drinkwitz said.

Nov 20, 2021; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Missouri Tigers fans show their support against the Florida Gators during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

On the Tigers' run defense

Missouri's defensive struggles to start the season were very well-documented. Now, those struggles appear nowhere to be found.

The Tigers allowed just 93 rushing yards on the night, an average of 2.8 yards per carry for the Gators' offense.

Defensive lineman Trajan Jeffcoat turned in a standout game, recording a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss. However, a big reason for the defensive success was the linebacking corps, starting with transfer linebacker Blaze Alldredge.

Alldredge made a key play on a jet sweep that held the Gators on third down and forced a field goal. If Alldredge missed that tackle, Florida likely would've scored a touchdown.

"Chad Bailey and Blaze Alldredge are playing very physical downhill," Drinkwitz said. "Our safeties are tackling well in the box. So I mean, it's just a combination of doing what we've been doing but better."

Missouri Tigers head coach Eli Drinkwitz watches play against the Florida Gators during the first half Saturday at Faurot Field.

On Drinkwitz's emotion for the players who stayed 

The COVID-strained 2020 season changed so much for the landscape of the game.

Players were granted an extra year of eligibility and allowed to transfer wherever they wanted with no year-long wait. That put a lot of freedom in the players' hands.

Some players left, but others, like offensive lineman Mike Maietti, stayed. That decision brought Drinkwitz to tears in retrospect, as Drinkwitz followed through of his promise to get Maietti to a bowl game.

"People chose to come here and some people didn't choose me," Drinkwitz said. "Coming together as a process, it doesn't happen overnight. We're just coming together. Whether it's the seniors who came back, whether it's through COVID, through adversity and people leaving and people coming, there's a process, and we're building on that process."

Follow Mizzou football with the Tribune’s Tiger Extra newsletter. For more of the Tribune's Missouri athletics coverage, purchase a digital subscription.