Tiger defense shows mettle against Huskers

Saturday, October 4, 2008 | 11:28 p.m. CDT; updated 2:19 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 9, 2008
MU safety William Moore snags Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz for a sack.

LINCOLN, Neb.- Through five weeks, the Missouri defense had heard about how much it needed to step up its play after struggling through the non-conference portion of the schedule.

This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. With only defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams missing from 2007's starters, the defense was supposed to be a huge strength, not a unit the Tigers' offense needed to carry.

This was the defense's chance to re-establish itself against an efficient offense. Nebraska had yet to be held under 30 points in any of its first four games.

This time, the defense was ready for the challenge.

Just like it did a year ago, the Tigers' defense used its conference opener to prove to its critics -- and itself -- that it was capable of stopping a quality offense when it needed to.

The Cornhuskers used one series to pass last season's six-point output, but then the defense tightened. Although Nebraska moved the ball with relative ease in that series, the Cornhuskers only mustered one more scoring drive the rest of the game: a field goal at the end of the second quarter.

The rest of the game, Missouri's defense showcased how it had improved during the bye week. The Tigers slowed Nebraska's rushing offense, which entered averaging 155.5 yards a game. In the first half, Nebraska managed seven yards on the ground, and its rushing offense was never a factor.

The Tigers also created turnovers and avoided making mistakes that would have allowed the Cornhuskers to stay close. Instead of committing penalties and negating good defensive plays, Missouri played a disciplined game. Brock Christopher's personal foul in the third quarter was the only flag the Tigers received on the night.

The Tigers even managed to score where Nebraska could not. Missouri used its preferred method of defensive scoring when Christopher became the third linebacker this season to return an interception for a touchdown. Christopher's touchdown marked the fourth time in Missouri's five games that a linebacker has returned an interception for a touchdown.

But although there were several positives, it was far from a perfect game for the defense. Despite keeping Nebraska's offense mostly silent, the Tigers' pass defense struggled to keep the Cornhuskers from moving down the field quickly. Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz found several gaping holes in the Missouri defense that he was able to exploit for big gains and an extension of Nebraska's scoring drives.

That problem still needs to be solved if Missouri's defense is to remain a strength, considering that Missouri's next two opponents, Oklahoma State and Texas, both boast efficient quarterbacks who are very capable of taking advantage of holes in the secondary.

But compared to where the Missouri defense appeared to be before the Nebraska game, the amount of progress made outweighed the amount of work that the defense still needed to complete.

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DJ DAVIDSON October 5, 2008 | 7:30 p.m.

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