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October 22, 2008No one covers the Tigers like PowerMizzou.com. We will be there every day during Missouri's trek toward a possible Big 12 title. Sign up today to start your Free Seven-Day Trial.
For five solid weeks, the Missouri defense felt it had been on a steady upswing since the season opening game against Illinois.
"We had been making progress," defensive end Tommy Chavis said. "But there's still little things that I've seen in some of the guys."
"I did. I thought we really did," added defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. "We were playing physical and flying to the ball and doing a lot of good things and making steady improvement."
In the five weeks since giving up 42 points to Illinois, the Tigers had allowed just 17.2 points and 235 passing yards per game. On the ground, Missouri was surrendering just 115.6 yards per game, despite facing two of the nation's top rushing teams in Nevada and Oklahoma State. And then came Saturday's game against Texas. The Longhorns shredded the Tiger defense for 591 yards, 203 of them coming on the ground. Texas averaged more than five yards per carry and nearly 13 yards per pass completion while scoring touchdowns on its first five drives of the game.
"As a defense we had been making a lot of progress," said senior safety Justin Garrett. "Last week, I think we didn't get ourselves ready to play this game."
"It was just more like little bitty errors that they capitalized on," Chavis said. "When you're in a big game, you can't have errors or the other team is going to capitalize on it and we just had too many of those."
Texas coach Mack Brown said after the game the first half was as good an offensive performance as he had ever been around. And the Tigers made sure to give credit to their opponent.
"I think you've got to also consider who we played. We played a team that put up 45 points on Oklahoma and about 450 yards. I think you give them credit, number one," said Gary Pinkel. "Number two is, yeah, we're disappointed. You've got to regroup."
The question is how Missouri goes about doing that. Among Big 12 teams, Missouri now ranks sixth against the run, 12th against the pass, ninth in total defense and eighth in scoring defense. This despite bringing back ten players who started against Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl and not having any starter who did not play significantly on last year's squad that led the Big 12 in total defense in conference games. Considering all the experience, how did the Tiger defense get here?
"I don't really know," Garrett said when asked what the difference was from a year ago.
Missouri's coaches and players alike insisted the scheme has not changed significantly from the 2007 season.
"I think where a game goes, eventually, you do some different things, but to say it's a wholesale difference is not true," Pinkel said. "We're looking at that right now, evaluating that and trying to make it so we can play better. Players and coaches."
Missouri has been here before, at least to some degree. Through the non-conference season in 2007, the Tigers had surrendered 34 points to Illinois, given up well over 200 yards rushing to Ole Miss, and were fielding major questions about their defense. At that time, the Tiger coaches maintained an overly positive attitude in order to build the confidence of a defense that was relatively inexperienced. Has that approach changed this year?
"Whenever you face adversity, you've always got to look for positives and be positive with the players. They're certainly feeling down a little bit about what's going on the last couple of weeks. We're just, as coaches, being real positive and upbeat and focusing on them having great attitudes," Eberflus said. "There were some good plays in there against the run at times and you can certainly pull out good things in every game. You try to pull out the positives and show them to the guys to say this is what we did do well so they have some sense of bringing something positive out of the game."
"We always try to be as positive as we can be," Pinkel said. "But there are certain times that I have to say what needs to be said."
The players say the defense's confidence is still high. And while they're staying positive, the Tigers know the time is now to get things turned around.
"We never put anybody down, we're always building each other up. We're a team out there. Whatever happens on the field is going to happen to all of us. We're still building each other up and staying positive throughout the year," Gettis said. "We know that we can't have any more games like that. We can't come in not ready to play."
No one covers the Tigers like PowerMizzou.com. We will be there every day during Missouri's trek toward a possible Big 12 title. Sign up today to start your Free Seven-Day Trial.