COLUMBIA - Missouri football defensive coordinator Dave Steckel is particular about language.
If you call him Dave or Steckel, you won’t get a response. It’s Stec or Coach Stec, and nothing else. Only his wife gets to call him Dave.
Ask him a question about his defense or in-game strategy, and he chooses his words methodically, aware of how each syllable will make him sound.
It’s a discipline that was instilled in him during his time as a Marine and continues to serve him in his coaching career.
So after Steckel and the rest of Missouri’s coaching staff made a calculated, premeditated change in their defensive front in Saturday night’s 45-28 win over Indiana, you can imagine his frustration when he heard the media misinterpreting what they had seen.
"We were really in our nickel defense, but what we really did in that substitution package is took a d-lineman out and put a linebacker in," Steckel said. "I kept saying, ‘Why are they saying 3-3-5?’"
A 3-3-5 defense is one with three defensive linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. Missouri had that exact personnel on the field, but Ian Simon, who is normally a safety, was lined up at linebacker. Hence the confusion.
So if this defensive package doesn't fall under the specific definition, what do the Tigers call it? That's a bit of a mystery, even to the players.
"Coach Stec would beat me up for this, but I don't know what else to call it, so I say 3-3-5," defensive end Kony Ealy said. "That's what it kind of looks like."
Even Steckel, who is careful with his words, doesn't have a specific name for it.
"Coach Stec calls it a lot of different things," linebacker Andrew Wilson said. "I forget exactly what he's been calling out. He calls it all kinds of different stuff."
Semantics aside, this wasn't an impulsive change. Steckel began implementing five different defensive packages throughout spring and summer camp and is confident his players can run each of them at any time.
"We made a conscious decision to use this package against Indiana," Steckel said. "We made the final decision on Tuesday to save it for the second half. It wasn’t like we invented this defense on Tuesday.
"To us, we think it’s really simple. And yet, it’s complex to the o-line."
The confusion it created was by design, and luckily, Indiana was as confused as anyone else.
"One time I did hear them trying to make a change, and another guy was doing the wrong thing," Wilson said. "It was kind of funny. I don't know what they were yelling, but they were getting to each other."
Missouri has just started dabbling into the defensive packages it can use. Steckel was careful about what he revealed and had instilled the same philosophy in his players. Trying to figure out the defensive coordinator's tendencies is worthless, he says in his usual matter-of-fact tone.
"It sounds egotistical, but a lot of it’s feel," Steckel said. "It’s always my gut feeling. Here’s what gut feeling means. You start calling what you think is working."
Supervising editor is Erik Hall: sports@ColumbiaMissourian.com, 882-5729.