Missouri defense looks to put squeeze on Juice Williams

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 | 11:20 p.m. CDT; updated 7:24 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Missouri defensive end Stryker Sulak says the Tigers defense has the experience necessary to stop Illinois quarterback Juice Williams.

Stryker Sulak's eyes couldn't believe what the rest of his body had just accomplished.

On the ground in a jumbled heap, 13 yards behind what was once the line of scrimmage for a second-and-17, lay all 233 pounds of Vince Young, one of the most prolific scrambling quarterbacks in the history of the Big 12.

Sulak, a freshman at the time, was busy celebrating with his teammates after chasing down the All-American in the backfield, but his first collegiate sack served as a harbinger of things to come. Three years later, Young has a national championship and two Rose Bowl rings, 2006 NFL Rookie of the Year honors, and a trip to the Pro Bowl under his belt. Sulak, on the other hand, is still terrorizing quarterbacks in the college game, and enters his senior season as an All-Big 12 defensive end who recorded 11 tackles for loss and six sacks as a junior.

Considering where Sulak has been, it's not hard to see why Illinois quarterback Juice Williams doesn't scare him. It's quite simple, actually: He's seen better.

""In the past, it would have been a problem," Sulak said of containing a dual-threat quarterback of Williams caliber. "Now though, we've just got so much more experience as a unit."

Excellence might be a more apt word.

The Missouri football team's defensive line returns three starters, all seniors, and a sole newcomer in junior Jaron Baston, who has seen action as a reserve in every game the past two seasons. As a unit, Sulak and Baston, along with seniors Ziggy Hood and Tommy Chavis, recorded 170 tackles in 2007, including 27.5 for losses and 15.5 sacks.

"We've played against mobile quarterbacks, we've played passing quarterbacks, for us, it really doesn't matter," Sulak said.

Even with the defensive line's stellar resume, stopping Williams is more than a four man operation.

"Defensive football is a team thing, everybody's got a job to do," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "If you do that, and keep contain, you might limit the damage."

And limiting the damage seems to be exactly what's on the defense's mind heading into Saturday's date in St. Louis. As much as they would like to completely eliminate Williams from the equation, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' unit knows expectations like that are unrealistic.

"He's going to have plays, regardless of how well you prepare for him," Hood said of Williams. "We just want to stop him from having too many big plays that can really hurt us, specifically running past the line of scrimmage."

Ask Hood just how the Tigers plan to do that, and the answer sounds simple.

"It's up to us as the linemen to get a nice push up the middle and really put the pressure on," Hood said. "Once we do that, as long as our ends can contain him on the outside, he shouldn't be able to get out of the pocket where he can really hurt us."

Doing so might not be as easy as Hood makes it sound, though.

In 2007, Williams racked up 755 yards on the ground, including a pair of games late in the Big 10 season that featured 133 and 136 yards of rushing. In between those performances, Williams held true to his label as a dual-threat quarterback, throwing for four touchdowns in a 28-21 upset of top-ranked Ohio State on the road.

"You've got to respect him," Pinkel said. "(The MU defense) went up against Brad Smith around here for a few years, so we know the impact a guy like that can have."


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