Moving to Arkansas at the age of one and being and the current Missouri head football coach, Eli Drinkwitz has a unique view of a series dubbed the Battle Line Rivalry.

So he tried his best Monday to offer up that Friday’s 2:30 p.m. game in Columbia, Mo., between the Razorbacks (6-5, 3-4) and the Tigers (5-6, 2-4) is about a trophy first and a bowl berth second. 

“The only thing we’re focused on is that it’s a rivalry game,” Drinkwitz said. “And it’s trophy week and that’s it. The most important thing to us is that they have a trophy and we want it, and the only way to get it is to play our best game and to prepare the way that we know how to prepare and to play with unbelievable effort. 

“That’s the focus and that’s why we did senior week last week. This week is all about rivalry week, Arkansas and the Battle Line trophy. And whatever happens after that happens. We’re just focused on trying to win that trophy.”

Arkansas has kept the trophy the past year after whipping Missouri 34-17 last season in Fayetteville in a game in which Razorback starting signal caller KJ Jefferson was 15 of 19 passing for 262 yards and a touchdown and also also added 58 yards rushing.

That was a year after Jefferson filled in for injured stater Feleipe Franks and went 18 of 34 for 274 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for  13 times for 39 yard and an additional score in Missouri’s 50-48 win in Columbia.

Drinkwitz, who was born in Norman Okla., and then moved to and graduated from Alma, made it clear that he is tired of seeing Jefferson, whose play last season ended a six-game winning streak for Missouri in the series.

The quarterback is the engine that makes them go,” Drinkwitz said. “Obviously, this will be the third time that we’ve played against him. Golly, I hope he’s graduating or going pro.” 

Jefferson  returned to action Saturday in his team’s 42-20 win over Ole Miss after missing the Razorbacks’ loss to LSU and being limited the week before in a home loss to Liberty.

He has completed 67.6% of his passes for 2,149 yards with 20 touchdowns and 3 interceptions this season.

“Holy cow, he’s an unbelievable player,” Drinkwitz said. “He’s able to really throw the football extremely well. He’s a physical runner. But I think the thing that separates him is his ability to read defenses.” 

Arkansas defense has retaken the sacks lead in the SEC.

“Yeah, they have a great scheme that creates havoc on because they’re coming from multiple angles and they’re really not attacking gaps, they’re attacking space,” Drinkwitz said. “And they put you in a lot of different one on ones. So, that’s going to be a challenge. Obviously, we’ve got a few guys who have experience and we got a true freshman. So, we’re going to have to really make sure we narrow the focus of what we do and make sure that our guys can execute it.”

Drinkwitz admires how Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman, defensive coordinator and former Missouri head coach Barry Odom and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles have been together three years.

“Obviously, coach Sam Pittman has done an excellent job at the University of Arkansas and they’ve got a really good football team,” Drinkwitz said. “They’ve had a lot of consistency in their coordinators and have maintained the same three coordinators for three seasons. You can tell that they play fast within their schemes.”

Missouri is coming into the game with Arkansas off a 45-14 home win over New Mexico State that ended the Tigers’ two-game losing streak.

A report from On3 indicates that  Missouri assistant Bush Hardeman has taken over the offensive play calling the past two weeks in the Tigers’ 66-24 loss to Tennessee and in last week’s win.

“I think it’s a little bit overblown, but appreciate Bush and his leadership,” Drinkwitz said. “Just honestly felt like if it could provide a spark, maybe that was something that could spark us.” 

Drinkwitz thinks the praise should be spread around on offense.

“We have an offensive staff that puts everything together and we got through all the situations and then, whoever’s dialing up the plays at that time is a collective effort anyway,” Drinkwitz said. “So I don’t get caught up in sources and all that different stuff, but yeah, Bush has done a nice job taking the lead on some of it.” 

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Like Pittman did at his press conference, Drinkwitz talked about players jumping into the transfer portal next week once the season is over.

“It’s gonna be a madhouse,” Drinkwitz said. “I think the FCS portal today is opened up and it’s completely crazy. I don’t think there’s any reason that’s going to be any different.” 

Drinkwitz gets some players may be unhappy with their playing time, but caution about a rash decision.

“There’s going to be players who leave our program, and I love them dearly,” Drinkwitz said. “They’re not excited about their role and they’re frustrated because they’re being utilized the right way. Sometimes you just gotta keep growing.” 

Drinkwitz, who was an assistant coach at Springdale High under Gus Malzahn, is 16-18 in his time at Missouri and recently signed an extension.

“When you’re talking about success, everybody believes success is linear,” he said. “It’s always pointing up. I think you got to understand the trajectory of what you’re trying to accomplish. Taking over this program, there was a lot of challenges when we first started with NCAA sanctions for two years and then COVID.

“Now dealing with the transfer portal and NIL, we’re navigating all those things in the middle of probably the most uncertain time in college football history. I think the things that we have done well is we have been to back to back bowl games, which I think there’s only two other coaches in school history that have done that (in their first two seasons). 

“We’ve recruited at one of the highest levels that this program has ever seen. We’ve drawn fan attendance back to one of the highest levels that it’s been since pre-2015. 

“We built a brand new indoor facility and raised money at a high level. You’re seeing progress on the defensive side of the ball, which had not been where we wanted it to be the previous season. 

“And then offensively, we are not where we want to be as far as the amount of yards and points but we are dealing with a pretty young football team.”