COLUMBIA — Thirty five — that's the number of turnovers Carl Gettis and the Missouri defense want to force in the 2010 season. Interceptions, fumbles, turnovers on downs —it doesn't matter how they get the ball, they just need to get it 35 times.
The formula for a successful defensive season is simple — "takeaways equal victories," safety Jasper Simmons said.
If all goes to plan, Gettis and company will force two turnovers a game, and to do that, the Tigers will need improved performance from a defensive secondary that ranked second to last in the Big 12 in pass defense in 2009.
"It's time for a change," senior cornerback Kevin Rutland said. "We've seen what's happened in past years in Mizzou football. We need to step up and be a physical, strong, solid secondary this year. "
Gettis knows that Big 12 offensive coordinators have had easy weeks when they prepared for Missouri. The team is returning it's top five defensive backs from 2009, but Gettis thinks low expectations and a new aggressive scheme will spoil the offensive party.
"As a defense, teams are trying to nickel and dime us. That gives us a chance to be more aggressive," Gettis said. "We have a great D-line in front of us, and they really help us out a lot more, they get a lot of pressure on the quarterback and that does nothing but help us in the secondary."
The Missouri cornerbacks and safeties know that the pressure is on, and they are hoping to transfer that pressure to the opposing team's wide receivers.
"The motto is to be more aggressive, don't be too afraid to take chances," Rutland said. "That's what it takes in the secondary to make big plays."
In the past few years, the Tiger cornerbacks lined up with healthy, 10-yard gaps between them and wide receivers. Such spacing will be rare in 2010. Gettis, the senior cornerback who will be a starter for the fourth straight season, is excited with the defense's evolution.
"That's something we all want to do as corners, we want to get up there and get a chance to get physical with receivers," Gettis said. "That's going to give our D-line opportunities and that's also going to give us opportunities to make plays."
Rutland thinks that the current group of defensive backs is athletic enough to make the new man-to-man defensive schemes work, if for no other reason, than because the passive, zone defensive scheme of 2009 did not work.
"If you have fast corners, let them run with guys. If you have big corners, let them get physical with guys," Rutland said.
As a freshman Gettis was named the best cornerback on Missouri's 2007 team. Since that point, Gettis has held his starting spot, but has not developed into the elite player his early success might have indicated.
Gettis said on Thursday that the best is yet to come for him, and preseason practices corroborate his analysis. In 11-on-11 drills in practices, Blaine Gabbert is rarely throwing to his left side — that's where Gettis roams. The play of Gettis has neutralized wide receiver Wes Kemp, who he lines up against most often. In two preseason scrimmages, Kemp has only has one reception for five yards.