COLUMBIA — Missouri's defensive line did not get the job done on Saturday.
Yes, they held Kansas State to 3.2 yards per rushing attempt, a notable accomplishment given the talented duo they faced in fleet-footed quarterback Collin Klein and tailback John Hubert. They also sacked Klein three times and had 11 tackles for a loss of 21 yards. Plus, only one of Kansas State's four scoring drives covered more than half of the field — and that one came after a roughing-the-kicker penalty on a punt.
But this is a defensive line that starts three seniors and a preseason all-Big 12 junior. The three seniors started every game they played in last year, and the junior, Brad Madison, led the team in sacks.
Despite that experience, seniors Jacquies Smith, Dominique Hamilton and Terrell Resonno each committed penalties in fairly crucial situations. And when Missouri needed to get the football back at the end of the game, the defense was unable to deliver it.
In the aftermath of the 24-17 loss to the Wildcats, the attention has been on the wildly inconsistent offense. When asked about the defensive line at Monday’s media conference, the team was mostly positive.
Each response had a "but" clause, though.
"I think we did a lot of good things defensively," Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said. "But we didn't finish at the end like we needed to in the situation that presented itself."
"I thought we basically did everything right," Resonno, a defensive tackle, said. "But at the end of the day, it was the penalties that killed us."
"We played all right as a defense," Madison, a defensive end, said. “If we go back and change two, three plays, it might switch the outcome of the game.”
One of those plays would have been a roughing-the-kicker penalty on redshirt freshman linebacker Darvin Ruise in the third quarter. It gave the ball back to Kansas State, allowing them to continue an 80-yard scoring drive which gave the Wildcats a 17-3 lead.
That wasn't the defensive line's fault. But defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson had an offside penalty later in the drive, and earlier in the game, Smith and Resonno each went offside in the red zone.
Defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski couldn't tell what had caused the penalties on film, so he asked the players. They weren't quite sure, either. They thought Kansas State center B.J. Finney might have used a hard count or made the ball flinch slightly. Both are clever and often effective — but not tricks that should fool experienced starters.
"It's extremely frustrating," Kuligowski said. "We have guys who are not in the game for the first time. These guys have been around. It wasn't one guy — it was several guys."
Then there was Hamilton's controversial personal foul with less than 90 seconds left in the game. A face mask penalty on third-and-11 gave Kansas State the final first down it needed to run out the clock.
"We watched it on film," Resonno said. "I have to say it. It was not really a penalty."
The penalty might not have mattered. Already, the Wildcats had driven 47 yards and taken 3:33 off the clock. They could have attempted a 38-yard field goal that, if made, would have given them a 10-point lead with little more than a minute left.
The drive became a lost cause for Missouri when Hubert made consecutive runs to the outside for more than 10 yards — runs that would not have been so successful if the defensive line had covered its gaps and gotten leverage on the outside, Kuligowski said.
Now the Tigers are 2-3 overall, 0-2 in the Big 12, and feeling increased pressure to win their Homecoming game against Iowa State (3-2, 0-2 Big 12) this Saturday before heading back on the road to play two more ranked teams. Panic might be creeping in.
"We need to fix everything," Hamilton said. "I don't know what we need to do. We need to pull out all the stops and try anything new. We just need to get a win.
"If you had told us we were going to be 2-3 coming into the season, I would not have believed that at all. We've just got to start playing to our expectations."
Missouri's defensive line does not need to fix everything. As the Kansas State game showed, it is doing an adequate job in most aspects. Nor do all the stops need to be pulled — the alarm is caused by the penalties undermining those expectations.
But eliminating penalties isn't something that can be fixed in practice. Playing smart is not something that needs to be taught to this crew.
"Do we have an experienced team? Yeah, we have that right now," Resonno said. "That shouldn’t be a factor at all. Me being here five years and working so hard, it’s not going to be like this. It’s going to be fixed."