By: Nate Smith
Following a disappointing loss in Wyoming, the Missouri Tigers returned home, looking to bounce back against the West Virginia Mountaineers. Mizzou started fast in week one, racing out to a 14-0 lead before costly turnovers eventually caught up to them. Playing in front of their home fans in week two, the Tigers hoped to start fast once again. After a punt on their opening drive, the Missouri defense forced a three-and-out from West Virginia. The Tigers dominated field position early, starting their initial two drives close to midfield. Tucker McCann put the first points on the board for Missouri, booting a 44-yard field goal halfway through the opening quarter.
On the defensive side of the ball, one of the biggest points of emphasis leading up to the game was creating turnovers. After not forcing a single one last week, Head Coach Barry Odom began this week by talking about the importance of winning the turnover battle. Odom even took the liberty of handing out “turnover cards” to the defense as a reminder of their importance. The defense certainly got the message in the first half, turning two tipped Austin Kendall passes into interceptions. Missouri’s Nick Bolton and Ronnell Perkins were both in the right place at the right time and came up with interceptions following deflections. In the second half, Bolton added his second interception of the game, which he ran back to the house for a 20-yard touchdown.
After the game, Coach Odom was quick to credit Defensive Coordinator Ryan Walters with putting players in precisely the right position throughout the game and especially so on the plays in which Mizzou forced turnovers. “Great call by Coach Walters, by formation, by personnel, by alignment, by situation on the field. He had a great understanding of what was coming. He called it on the headsets, it was awesome. And then it played out just like he called it. Nick made two great plays, and he found the end zone which is so huge (to get a) pick-six…I was excited for him and our defense and our team, to see that come through.” Odom drove home a simple, yet important point to close out his media availability. “You walk out of the game plus three in turnover margin, it’s always gonna be good for us.”
Following Saturday’s win, Mizzou’s senior defensive leaders also had a lot of positive things to say. Tigers All-American linebacker Cale Garrett told media members that the Tigers had a “great vibe” on the field, adding “the biggest thing for us was to stick together and not listen to outside noise.”
DeMarkus Acy explained why the team was able to overcome the absence of fellow cornerback Jarvis Ware, who was out nursing a sprained ankle. “Jarvis is a great talent and it’s always hard to lose somebody, but we have other guys in the room that are capable of playing (such as) Christian Holmes and Adam Sparks.” Acy’s point of view makes a lot of sense, as both he and Holmes ranked in the top five among all SEC cornerbacks last year in passer rating allowed. For Sparks, he was one of several players to receive well-deserved praise from Coach Odom during the postgame press conference. Going forward, the idea of having to face a cornerback group featuring Acy, Holmes, Ware, and Sparks should make opposing offensive coordinators and wide receivers feel uneasy.
With a dominating afternoon from the defense, there was less pressure on quarterback Kelly Bryant and the Missouri offense. Bryant played well and was very efficient on the day, throwing for 150 yards and three touchdowns on 17 of 25 passing. As Cale Garrett said, “when (both units are having success) together, it’s demoralizing for another team to play against. The momentum is completely on our side when both those things are gelling together.” Wide receiver Jonathan Nance echoed that message from an offensive perspective, telling me “man, it feels great…for (the defense) to know that we’re behind them and cheering for them, I know it feels good for them too. The Tigers will look to continue their cohesive play next weekend in another non-conference matchup against in-state rival Southeast Missouri State.