Drinkwitz knows well what Pittman has been experiencing lately

By Dudley E. Dawson
on 2023-11-20 17:52 PM


Arkansas’ Sam Pittman and Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz, whose teams meet Friday in Fayetteville, were both hired as head football coaches by their respective programs in Dec. of 2020.

Both have experienced success and endured some hardships, Pittman’s coming this season with a six-game losing streak while Drinkwitz took a lot of criticism during his third season as the Tigers lost four of their first six games.  

Drinkwitz got a two-year extension and a raise to $6 million while Pittman’s team was informed Saturday night that would definitely be coaching the Razorbacks for a fifth season in 2024.

“I think that was a smart decision,” Drinkwitz said. “I think Sam Pittman is a heck of a football coach. I think he has done an outstanding job at the University of Arkansas.

“When we first came into this league, we both came into together and the resurgence of that program and he job that he has done recruiting, coaching and developing.”

Drinkwitz was 17-21 at Missouri when his extension and raise were announced in early November of 2022 and is now 26-21.

Pittman’s salary was upped to $5 million – it has since been increased to $6 million – and his contract extended in June of 2022.

That came after going 9-4 in 2021, the Razorback program’s most successful season in 10 years while winning four trophy games against Texas A&M, LSU, Missouri and a xxx bowl win over Penn State.

“I think back to two years ago, we were 2-4 and the (Missouri) Board of Curators believe enough in me to reaffirm there commitment to us. You look at result now,” Drinkwitz said.

That show of support allowed Drinkwitz to continue his building that has resulted this year in a nine-win season.

“I think it sends a lot of positive messages to the fans, the recruits and to your coaching staff and the players  in the building that we we are going to continue is this direction and it is the right direction,” Drinkwitz said.

“Look, expectations are expectations and this league is the in college football and that’s why you choose to be in it. You choose to compete at the highest level and that’s the life we have chosen as the said in The Godfather. It is what it is.”

Arkansas (4-7, 1-6) hosts No. 10 Missouri (9-2, 5-2) in a 3 p.m. game that will be televised by CBS and is dubbed the Battle Line Rivalry.

It  has been played annually the day after Thanksgiving and televised in a prime spot by CBS.

“I love it,” Drinkwitz said. “I think it is good. The national broadcast is really cool. It gives you a chance to sell your program and when you get to the later part of the season, it’s a little bit of pain on the front end as far as your preparation, but I think all of us will be excited on Saturday to have that day off sitting around hopefully a warm fire – natural gas at my house.”

Missouri leads the all-time series 10-4 and  had won 5 straight in the matchup in 2016-2020 before falling 34-17 in Fayetteville in 2021.

The Tigers took a 29-27 home victory in Columbia last season.

“Rivalry week here and I think think it is great part of college football,’ Drinkwitz said. “An opportunity to compete for the Battle Line trophy and to have bragging rights for this game.

“I know that in Branson and Lake of the Ozarks there are always Arkansas and Missouri flags flying, especially when I am there in the summer.

“We know obviously that Arkansas will be prepared and it is always difficult to play in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Certainly the fans are always loud and we know that Arkansas is going to have a lot to play for.”

Drinkwitz, whose program has won 7 of the last 9 matchups with the Razorbacks, is well aware that a vocal segment of the Arkansas fanbase don’t consider this a true rivalry.

“We enjoy that people don’t think it is a rivalry because we believe it is a rivalry,” noted, who is 2-1 against Pittman in this series.

Missouri edged visiting Florida 33-31 on  Harrison Mevis’ 30-yard field goal with 5 second left last Saturday after the Tigers converted a 4th and 17 on their last drive.

The Tigers two losses this season have come at two-time defending national champ Georgia (30-21) and in an earlier home game against LSU (49-39).

“We have absolutely got to play our best game of the year, prepare the right way in a short week and we need two make sure our focus is on playing our best ball.

“…We are definitely beat up. It has been a tough stretch for us in these four games after the bye week.”

“I anticipate them leaving it all out on the field. They have an opportunity to win a trophy.”

Drinkwitz will be facing Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson for a fourth consecutive season.

“I feel like we have played that guy forever,” Drinkwitz said. “He is very talented and I think he is the leading passer for Arkansas and they have had some tremendous quarterbacks there in the past…Obviously got a lot of respect for him.

“That is a difficult challenge and one we haven’t really solved very well in four years,” Drinkwitz said. “This will be our fourth time to play him. I think his first year in 2020, he got his first start when Feleipe Franks was injured and he absolutely stole the show.

“He’s played tremendous against us. He is a big, physical runner. You know he is so strong. There are a couple of clips in the Florida game of just overpowering guys.

“He looks for the contact and so you are going to, especially when he is the pocket,  you can’t go low because that is a personal foul and you can’t go high because you are going to bounce off of him.

“I think (Alabama head) Coach (Nick) Saban said he threw him off like a gnat on a cow’s ass or something. So it is a pretty difficult challenge and we are going to have to do a good job of tackling him and containing him.”

Drinkwitz went to Sardis, Miss., to recruit Jefferson for North Carolina State when the coach was at North Carolina State.

“I have a lot respect for KJ,” Drinkwitz said. “I recruited him when I was at NC State and made that trip to North Panola High School. He is just an outstanding young man.

“You can tell the way he plays that his teammates respond to him and you can tell he is a fearless competitor and I have a tremendous amount of competitive respect for him as a player.”

He also knows that Jefferson is back in an offense that fits him better.

“We know that have made changes and have gone back to more of a tempo style, which is what they have done in the past, which has given us a lot of trouble,” Drinkwitz said. “ So we have got, especially on a short week, a lot to prepare for.

“Defensively I think (Razorback defense coordinator) Travis Williams has done a great job. Their defensive players attack the football, they are really good at forcing turnovers. I think they lead the country in defensive touchdowns. Just very impressed with the energy they play with, the style of defense they play with.

“They are very good on the defensive front, had a lot of secondary players transfer in and they are playing at a high level on the defensive side of the ball.”  

“Special teams, their field goal kicker Cam Little is as good as anybody in the country. I know Coach Fountain does an excellent job. They ran a fake on us a couple of years ago and they normally have a really good fake scheme.”

(Last updated: 2023-11-20 17:52 PM)