SAN ANTONIO — If defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus wants to see his defense dominate in Monday night’s matchup with Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl, he might want to invest in a plane ticket to San Antonio and a sideline pass for Kenny Chesney.
An appearance by the country music star almost always outfitted with a cowboy hat already produced one impressive performance from the defense, and if junior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon’s message serves as any guide, it could still be good for another.
Missouri (9-4) vs. Northwestern (9-3)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday
WHERE: San Antonio
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM
Back on Oct. 4, the Tigers raced to a 31-7 second quarter lead en route to a 52-17 victory over Nebraska, a team who finished with nine wins and a share of the Big 12 North title. Highlighted by an interception returned for a touchdown by senior linebacker Brock Christopher, Weatherspoon credited Chesney’s appearance on the ESPN program “College Gameday” earlier that morning for the defense’s added motivation, adding that he thought the performance was the Tigers’ best of the season.
“He knows nothing about football, and he’s on the set just talking all kinds of smack about Mizzou, about us losing to Nebraska,” said Weatherspoon, who placed Chesney’s criticism as the most memorable of the season. “He’s not even a Nebraska grad, I think he’s from Tennessee or something. I don’t know what he’s talking about.”
Four times this season, however, the Tigers haven’t been able to silence their critics, specifically those targeting the defense’s struggles.
“We have the guys out there that can get the job done, I’m positive of that,” Weatherspoon said. “I’d put my guys up there against any guys.”
Ten of 11 starters from last year’s team that finished atop the Big 12 in total defense returned this season, but Eberflus, who also serves as safeties coach, has been the lightning rod for much of the team’s struggles, specifically those in the secondary.
“He’s more intense, that’s the thing. That’s the type of guy he is. When his back’s against the wall, he’s going to come out swinging,” Weatherspoon said. “The whole bowl game, you wouldn’t want to be around him all the time. He’s ready to win this game, he wants to dominate.”
The frustration of being unable to hush those naysayers has marred what could have been a banner year for senior safety William Moore.
“That’s what hurts the most, when you go out and try to prove so much and it don’t go the right way,” said Moore, who will enter the 2009 NFL Draft as one of the top safety prospects. “That’s the game of football though, you’ve got to have a short memory and be able to bounce back.”
Moore said the bashing his defense took on a national stage like “College Gameday” is something he takes personally as a defensive captain.
“I know my guys go out there and grind,” Moore said. “When they bash our defense like we don’t even have one, it really ticks me off.”
And with one final chance to earn back a shred of the respect they had garnered in the preseason, Moore says his unit wouldn’t disappoint.
“It all just adds fuel to the fire, and I promise you these guys are going to come out and show it.”
Of course, none of that matters unless it begins with the coaching staff. According to Weatherspoon, it has.
And their stern message has set the tone for the team in the River City.
“He’s (Eberflus) been hot, a lot of these coaches have been. They’ve got the fire on them,” Weatherspoon said. “They really want this game, I’ve never seen them coaching so hard and be so hard on us.”