COLUMBIA – Missouri linebacker Andrew Wilson had a brief moment of panic during Saturday's 48-17 win over Kentucky.
Midway through the third quarter, with Missouri leading by 18, Kentucky running back Raymond Sanders snuck out of the backfield on a passing route and sprinted by Wilson, who got caught staring in the backfield while in coverage.
"I was just thinking, 'oh crap, oh crap,'" Wilson said.
Wilson turned around, put his head down and began sprinting after Sanders, who looked over his shoulder just as Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow lobbed a pass down the sideline right at him. The ball fell perfectly into Sanders' hands and he began picking up even more yardage after the catch for the Wildcats' longest offensive play of the game.
As Sanders cut toward the middle of the field around the 40-yard line, Wilson, who never stopped his dead sprint, finally caught up. As Sanders was being tackled, Wilson launched himself toward the running back, his eyes on the ball.
"Coach preaches run to the ball and that is what I was doing," Wilson said. "Somebody got a hold of him and stopped him, and I was just running up from behind."
He was just in time. Just before Sanders hit the ground, Wilson punched the ball free before slamming to the field himself. As the ball came loose, Wilson wasn't even sure where it was, but linebacker Darvin Ruise was there to jump on it for the recovery.
Maybe it looked like just another bounce that went Missouri's way in a lopsided win on Saturday, but the fumble happened to be the only turnover the Tigers forced all afternoon, extending the team's streak of consecutive games with a turnover to 40. Missouri's streak is the longest active streak in the country.
"We don't really think about the 40 games in a row, but we always preach turnovers and preach takeaways," Wilson said. "We are always doing takeaway drills. It's a big part of our defense."
The night before the game, a friend called Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel and mentioned the streak and how amazing it was. Pinkel quickly shut him down.
"I said, 'I don't want to talk about it,'" Pinkel recalled. "'Are you kidding me? I don't know what you're talking about.'"
Turnovers are more than just a part of Missouri's defense. The takeaways have been one of the main reasons the Tigers have a 9-1 record through ten games. Their plus-14 turnover margin ranks third in the country and first in the Southeastern Conference.
"Those are huge momentum plays," Pinkel said.
Missouri still has some work to do if it hopes to make its streak a historic one. The 40-game streak is still 27 away from the all-time record of 67, which was set by Colorado and spanned from 1974-1980.
The last game in which Missouri wasn't able to force a turnover came in 2010 when Nebraska beat Missouri 31-10. The 2010 season was also the last time Missouri had nine wins in a season. Unlike its 2010 predecessors, the 2013 Tigers haven't had a game in which they failed to register a takeaway or a game in which they lost focus, which happened twice in 2010.
So there's a reason Pinkel doesn't talk much about the turnover streak. It embodies a focus and hunger that his team continues to play with deep into the season. For Pinkel and Missouri, the turnover streak isn't even the team's most important streak, now that the Tigers have won two straight games since a tough loss to South Carolina.
"It's great to be 2-0 in November," Pinkel said.