Eli Drinkwitz seemingly had restored Missouri's home-field advantage.
Just a year ago, in his first season atop the Tigers' program, Drinkwitz guided the Tigers to a stunning home upset of defending national champion LSU and four more Southeastern Conference wins – three of them inside Faurot Field, amidst a pandemic with virtually no fans in attendance.
The Tigers then won each of their first two home games in 2021 by double figures.
Saturday against visiting Tennessee, Missouri was chased out of its home stadium – almost from the opening kick.
The Tigers trailed 28-3 after one, 45-10 at the half and fell 62-24 – Missouri's worst loss in Drinkwitz's two years and his worst in three years as a head coach
“Very deflating (loss); we want to protect Faurot Field,” Drinkwitz said in his postgame. “I know people work really hard to pay their money to buy tickets, and we disappointed them. We’re not going to let it define us. We’ll fight.”
Drinkwitz called the blowout-loss “uncharacteristic” and said he failed to do his job as Tigers' coach.
“To say I’m disappointed is an understatement,” said Drinkwitz, 5-5 in 2020 after an 12-win season atop Appalachian State in 2019. “It’s my responsibility to have this team prepared and ready to play and to represent this university in the right way and I didn’t do my job today. We’ll get back to work (Sunday) to get it corrected. This was uncharacteristic of this football team. This football team has been a team that fights.
“We weren’t ready today and that’s on me as the head football coach and we will work to correct that and to be better. We got a long way to go. But it starts with me and doing everything I can to make sure that we make forward progress and we didn’t do that today. We took a step back today. But it doesn’t have to define us. We can keep moving forward and that’s what we’re going to do."
The Vols, with just 71 scholarship players and trying to rebuild under Josh Heupel, the first-year coach seeking to help the program navigate the depths it was plunged by Jeremy Pruitt, notched his first career SEC win. Tennessee's offense amassed nearly 700 yards, a tally that included 458 on the ground.
Drinkwitz said the Missouri program had just two choices in how it proceeded the remainder of the season.
“You either circle up as teammates and coaches and fight for each other and fight your way out of this, or you point fingers and you blame,” Drinkwitz said. “When you walk out of that building, everybody is going to tell you it wasn’t your fault, it was somebody else’s fault. They’re going to point stuff out on social media, whatever. But at the end of the day, the only people who can solve it are in that room. It’s coaches and players working together as a team. We’re not doing that right now. That’s on me.
“I told them if you come back to work tomorrow, come back as a team. We’re going to work as a team. We’re going to find a way to improve. I don’t know what the ceiling is for this team, but it’s got to be better than it was today.”
The Tigers have two more home games in this three-game homestand, with North Texas and Texas A&M visiting the next two weeks.