By: Nate Smith
Prior to enjoying a bye week, the Missouri Tigers looked strong against South Carolina, rolling to a 34-14 victory. It was the third straight win on the season for the Tigers after dropping their season opener in Wyoming. Missouri has now won its last five home games, winning by 28+ points on average. A deep dive inside the numbers reveals just how dominant the Tigers have been at home in recent memory.
The Missouri defense has allowed just 34 yards per game rushing to the last two SEC opponents to enter Faurot Field. South Carolina was only able to muster 16 yards on the ground in the Tigers’ SEC opener. For the Gamecocks, this was their lowest total since 2003 versus an LSU team that went on to win the national championship. In last year’s home finale, Mizzou allowed only 52 yards on the ground to the rival Razorbacks of Arkansas.
Missouri has held their opponents scoreless in the first quarter this season, dominating the opening period 58-0. On Mizzou’s fast starts, senior cornerback DeMarkus Acy said, “Coach always tells us to get out to a fast start and don’t play to your opponent’s level…we’ve just got a smash-mouth mentality. To be honest, it doesn’t matter who we line up against. We’re gonna show you we’re (gonna play) physical. It’s really fun getting out there playing and taking on challenges.”
Missouri cornerbacks DeMarkus Acy (2) and Adam Sparks (14) participate in drills during a recent practice.
When it comes to explosive plays allowed, the Tigers have also been stingy. Missouri’s opponents have combined for only eight plays of 20 or more yards this season. Mizzou sits atop the SEC in that category and is 2nd best nationally, trailing only defending national champion Clemson. Acy also talked about the pride and motivation that goes along with hearing a stat like that. “Last year, (people were saying) ‘the secondary is the weak point’…we took (note of that). Coach does a really great job preaching to us that we’re all one unit and it’s not just (up to) one person.” Acy’s comments speak to how motivated this Tigers team is, and yet focused too. He also alluded to the Missouri group of cornerbacks that are among the best in the entire country.
In fact, the defense as a whole ranks extremely high in several areas. Mizzou is 1st among FBS schools with four defensive touchdowns, 2nd in team passing efficiency defense, and 3rd in first down defense, yards allowed per pass, yards allowed per play, first down defense, and total defense.
Several Tigers Record Individual Accolades
Safety Ronnell Perkins’ 100-yard interception return versus South Carolina was the longest in school history. While the Tigers have previously recorded several 100-yard plays, the pick-six was the first of its kind for Mizzou.
Linebackers Cale Garrett and Nick Bolton are coming off back-to-back SEC Defensive Player of the Week awards. In the games that earned them recognition, Garrett and Bolton both scored defensive touchdowns and made plays all over the field to earn the honor. After practice last week, Garrett was quick to shift the spotlight to his teammates. I think it’s kind of a whole (team defense) honor, not necessarily a personal award. I just see it as me doing my job. Garrett also praised the defensive line and secondary, saying “If you look at Jordan Elliott and Kobie Whiteside’s performances (against South Carolina), both of those guys balled out. Nick (Bolton is) always playing well, he’s had a really good season…love what he’s doing, love what he brings. Then also on the back end, (Josh) Bledsoe…he played really well, Perk (Ronnell Perkins) had a pick-six.”
Missouri Head Coach Barry Odom chats with linebacker Cale Garrett as he stretches during a recent practice
Missouri had not one but two seniors eclipse the 2,000 career yards mark prior to the bye week. By doing so, running back Larry Roundtree III and wide receiver Johnathon Johnson have combined to place Mizzou in elite company. The Tigers are now one of only four Power 5 Schools to have two current players that have already surpassed the 2,000-yard plateau.
I asked quarterback Kelly Bryant how the presence of veterans with those types of achievements helps some of the younger players on the team such as wide receiver Jalen Knox and running back Tyler Badie. “It helps them a lot. First and foremost just being around those guys…for the younger guys to just come in and see the work (Roundtree and Johnson) put in…(Knox, Badie, and other younger players) can chase the same thing…(you’ll be able to look up) after two or three years and see there wasn’t a dropoff.”
Knox couldn’t agree more. When asked what the biggest thing he could learn from Roundtree and Johnson, Knox said “Just keep pushing forward…trying to stay consistent. Keep working, stay true to what you are…just keep working, playing hard and it’ll come to you.”
Saturday’s Matchup With Troy
Mizzou is 17-7 in their last 24 games and has scored 31+ points in nine straight games. Only three SEC schools and eight Power 5 schools have a better mark during that time. Troy University could care less. The Trojans storm into Columbia, MO with one thing on their mind: another upset of Mizzou. The Trojans defeated the Tigers in Troy, AL in 2004 in a wild game. Mizzou rebounded to win in 2005, giving the Tigers a 2-1 advantage in the all-time series.
For Missouri, this Saturday isn’t about anything other than taking care of business. Say what you will about the season-opening loss to Wyoming, but there was at least one positive to come from it. The Tigers are now the last team you should expect to overlook an opponent. The silver lining of the Tigers’ only blemish is that this team is now more focused and determined than ever. Worries about Head Coach Barry Odom’s not-so-stellar record following a bye week should also be squashed. As Odom has mentioned on multiple occasions, the team decided to overhaul the team’s previous bye week protocols to pursue improvement in that area. On Saturday afternoon at Faurot Field, fans could once again see a dominant performance from Missouri, with the defense reigning supreme.