The Missouri offense is averaging 38 points and 508 yards per game. By all accounts, the rush defense was better at Oklahoma State last weekend and the Tigers had five sacks. But Missouri still gave up 31 points, thanks in large part to a pass defense that has been beaten badly in every game since the opener against Arkansas State.
"From a defensive standpoint, that's probably hurting us more than anything, giving up big play passes," said head coach Gary Pinkel.
The Tiger defensive backs certainly aren't shirking the responsibility.
"Me personally, I've been disappointed in my own performance," said senior corner Calvin Washington. "I've got a lot of expectations with the veteran group that we got. These plays that's been happening, you expect to be at a minimum."
"I don't feel like I'm playing the way I should," agreed junior safety David Overstreet. "I'll take responsibility on the way I'm playing. I feel like if there's any big pass, I should have been over there to make the play. The corners feel the same way and (Jason) Simpson feels the same way."
Nearly everyone expected more out of the Tiger secondary. It is a group that has started three seniors (Washington, A.J. Kincade and Simpson) and a junior (Overstreet) in most games this season. Senior Marcus King has also started at corner. Surrendering 230 yards a game and a league-worst ten touchdown passes might be acceptable from an inexperienced group, but the Tigers are doing this with players that have been in the program four or five years.
"We've got too much experience to play the way we're playing," said cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford. "We've gotten better, don't get me wrong, in some areas we've gotten better. But still, when you go up against good receivers, you've got to increase your level of play. Unfortunately, we haven't done that at this point."
The Tigers have gone up against some good receivers. It seems likely New Mexico's Hank Baskett will be among the first wideouts taken in the NFL draft next April. Oklahoma State's D'Juan Woods is one of the Big 12's better targets. Those two combined for 18 catches, 335 yards, four touchdowns and a two-point conversion against Mizzou.
"No question the two guys we played were pretty good receivers. I think they both have the ability to play at the next level," Ford said. "But it's always what we're doing. I think we're talented enough to play with those kind of players."
"Not to take anything away from the receivers, but a lot of it has been our fundamentals, things we haven't been doing correctly, just things we've got to get down," said Kincade.
It doesn't get any easier for the Tigers. This weekend, they face Todd Blythe, Jon Davis and Austin Flynn. All three Iowa State receivers are in the conference's top nine in receptions per game. They have combined for 751 yards receiving in the Cyclones' first four games.
"Big 12 Conference, there are no easy games from here on out. You're going to play big time players every week and big time teams every week," Kincade said. "They were good players last year and I know they're better than they were last year. It's just gonna be another tough week for us."
The Tigers hope it's not as tough as the last few have been.
"It's a little disappointing, but the main thing is none of us are giving up," added Kincade. "We're just going after it every week. No matter what happens, we just keep going out there and giving it our best. As long as that happens, I'm pretty sure things will turn out for the best."
Listen to Gabe's interview with Cornell Ford here.
PowerMizzou.com will be your most comprehensive source for coverage of the Tigers throughout the 2005 season. Each Monday, we will provide you with a transcript of coach Pinkel's press conference in its entirety. Throughout the week, we will provide audio interviews, feature stories and analysis of the upcoming game. During the game, we will provide Instant Analysis of the contest and will continue with complete post-game coverage throughout the weekend. To talk about it with other Tiger fans, visit our premium forum, The Tigers' Lair.