Missouri defense helping football team win games despite injuries

Sunday, November 21, 2010 | 9:57 p.m. CST
Missouri's Marvin Foster (left), Andrew Wilson (middle) and Andrew Gachkar (right) tackle Iowa State Quarterback Jerome Tiller on Saturday. The Tigers shut out the Cyclones 14-0.

AMES, Iowa — Carl Gettis has been a starting cornerback on the Missouri defense the past four years. His hope for the final season was for the Missouri defense to win football games. 

After posting its second conference shutout in a 14-0 win against Iowa State, Gettis has his wish — the 2010 Missouri defense can, and has, won games. 

"We need to talk about the D," tight end Michael Egnew said after Saturday's win. "They did a heck of a job, a heck of a job. They saved our ass tonight."

For most of Gettis' four years with the Missouri football program, the team's high-powered offense has had to save the defense. But this season the roles have reversed, and Gettis has no problem enjoying the moment.

"Its a good feeling, we know sometimes our offense is going to struggle, that's going to be our time where we have to step up and answer the call," Gettis said. "We were able to do that tonight."

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said after the shutout that the 2010 defense is the best unit in his 10-year tenure. For a defense that has been plagued by injuries and suspension at every position, that's high praise.

"I'm impressed," Pinkel said. "We're playing a lot of players, but I think we're very well focused, and we're playing with a lot of intensity. And playing a lot of players has really been a plus for us, because I think it keeps guys fresh."

The injuries have been so plentiful on the Missouri defense this season, that it was easier to say who could play against Iowa State than who was out. The Tigers played without four defensive starters and three other starters took to the field with nagging injuries. 

"We came out and played the same way we would whether we had injuries or not," Gettis said. "We came out and did exactly what we wanted to do."

Linebacker Andrew Gachkar had to play every down of Saturday's game — the Tigers had only four active linebackers. Pinkel said that the lack of depth at linebacker, injuries to the defensive secondary and defensive line, and the suspension of safety Jasper Simmons forced the Missouri into a simple gameplan. 

"We got a lot of things going out there," Pinkel said "You can't have a shutout without really circling a lot of names, that's how that works. There's not question about it, we've been shuffling a lot of people in and out... We bend a little bit, but we somehow make plays a lot, and we've been doing it all year."

"Bend but don't break" has become the Missouri defense's motto, and when the opposing offense drives into the redzone, that motto becomes incredibly important.

"When a team is driving on us, that's what we say, 'just bend but don't break,'" Gettis said. "When we have some room to work with, anything can happen... We know we are capable to produce anything in that situation."

The Missouri defense is the second-best redzone defense in the nation, allowing offenses to score on just 53 percent of their trips inside the 20.

Iowa State made two trips within Missouri's 20-yard line on Saturday and left without points both times because of missed field goals.

Gachkar said that early season success has snowballed into consistent redzone success.

"We've been good all year in the redzone, people could say that its luck or whatever, but we like to think that we make our own luck," Gachkar said. "Its a sense of confidence that comes about us now, because we get down there and we're like, 'Well, we've been here before and teams haven't scored.' So we kind of have the attitude like they're only getting a field goal... and when they miss the field goal, that's gravy."

Overall, the defense's plan might have been basic and conservative, but Pinkel and defensive coordinator Dave Steckel let defensive end Aldon Smith run free. 

Smith lined up at outside linebacker for several plays, adding that position to an arsenal that seems to grow weekly. 

"They just let me drop a little bit and spot the quarterback, I like that a lot," Smith said. "Wherever they put me I can play it, and I can make a little contribution there."

Smith claimed earlier in the week that he could sub in at cornerback if Kevin Rutland couldn't play against Iowa State. Smith has now played defensive end, defensive tackle and outside linebacker this season, and he says he wants to add more positions to his resume in the final two games of the season.

"I can play any position on the field," Smith reaffirmed Saturday. "(Coach Pinkel is) starting to see. I've been around a lot, I don't think he'll put me at corner, but he's putting me in positions where I can make plays."

Smith caused havoc against Iowa State, getting into the backfield on most every play, regardless his starting position. He said after the game that his broken leg is still not 100 percent, that he is still rushing the recovery process, and when the leg is healed, it won't matter where he starts the play, it will end in a sack.

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