Tigers’ defense looking to force turnover issue

Wednesday, September 10, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:22 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

According to Nino Williams, he should have sat out the Missouri football team’s win against Ball State on Saturday.

Although Williams, a junior free safety, led the Tigers with nine tackles, the defense forced one fumble but did not recover it.

“Zero turnovers in one game, that’s almost like we didn’t play,” Williams said.

A need to intercept

MU (2-0) is one of six teams in the nation that has not turned over the ball, and the Tigers committed 12 turnovers last season, the fewest of any Division I school. They have forced one turnover in their first two games, though, and coaches and players are unhappy with those results.

“We didn’t get them on the other side, and that’s disappointing to me,” coach Gary Pinkel said after Saturday’s game.

MU’s goal is to force three turnovers a game. Every day in practice the defense runs what cornerback Calvin Washington calls the “takeaway circuit.” The Tigers rotate from drill to drill, practicing stripping, punching, catching and falling on the ball.

After so few turnovers in the first two games, Washington said they are high on the defense’s list of priorities.

“You want to be known as a defense that can score,” Washington said. “That’s something we can hang our hat on.”

A different way of thinking

Outside safeties coach Cornell Ford said one of the first things every player who comes to Missouri learns is how to hang on to a football using five pressure points: fingertips, palm, forearm, biceps and rib cage. That’s not the case at every school, though.

“Most offensive players across the country don’t carry that way,” Ford said. “A lot of them carry it with one hand, or the back point is open.”

On almost every play during practice, players hear coaches yell, “get the ball out,” Ford said.

“What we want them to do is always be thinking, ‘How can I take the ball away from the offense?’” Ford said.

After a few games last season when his team did not reach its forced-turnover goal, Pinkel said he told his players that the turnovers would not “magically happen.”

“You’ve got to just keep going and going; all of a sudden you’re going to get four in one game, or five in one game,” Pinkel said to the players.

Turnovers a high-point in season memories

Outside safety Dedrick Harrington forced a turnover against Illinois on Aug. 30 when he punched the ball out from underneath wide receiver Melvin Bryant’s right arm. The Illini were on the Tigers’ 20.

Ford said Harrington’s maneuver matched one the Tigers work on daily in practice.

Harrington said the turnover was the biggest play this season for him.

“I was behind a little bit, so I had a few steps to see where he had the ball to go for it,” he said. “Otherwise, I would have just tackled him.”

When nothing came out of the Tigers’ turnover efforts Saturday, it overshadowed the team’s minuscule 41 rushing yards allowed, at least for them.

“It might seem small because we won, but the game could have been a lot better if we did get turnovers,” Williams said.

Harrington said he doesn’t feel he deserves special recognition for his feat except in one way.

“Takeaways equal victory, pretty much,” he said. “That’s good enough for me.”

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