Tigers joining school’s best at many levels

Monday, September 15, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:57 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Three games into its season, the Missouri football team has made its mark on school history in several areas. Some are for the first time under third-year coach Gary Pinkel, and some are for the first time in decades.

The history is not lost on the players.

The Tigers are 3-0 for the first time since 1981. For the first time in five seasons, MU is nationally ranked, and in Saturday’s 37-0 win against Eastern Illinois, the Tigers recorded their first shutout since Sept. 5, 1998. That year was the most recent season the Tigers finished ranked.

Brian Smith, a redshirt freshman defensive end who has recorded four sacks in three games for the Tigers, said he understands the significance of his team’s accomplishments.

“To us, on this particular game with a shutout on the 3-0, we haven’t done that in 22 years,” Smith said. “A shutout and 3-0, it’s like icing on the cake.”

MU has won its first three games nine times in the past 60 years.

“Most people weren’t even born that play on the team, last time we were 3-0,” defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison said.

Pinkel recognized the significance of the Tigers’ record, but did not discuss it at length after Saturday’s game.

“4-0’s a lot better,” Pinkel said.

In the Associated Press poll released on Sunday, MU is ranked No. 23. In the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, the Tigers were not ranked but received 113 votes, the most of any unranked team.

Pinkel said Monday that although it is a goal of the Tigers to be one of the top 25 teams in the country, worrying about rankings is a waste of his time.

MU’s was ranked No. 81 in the nation in scoring defense last season. David Overstreet, a redshirt freshman free safety, was so excited after the game that he confused his sports and referred to the shutout in baseball terms.

“The shutout is like our present, we try to pitch a shutout every time we go out there,” said Overstreet, who forced a fumble in the second quarter of Saturday’s game that led to MU’s first touchdown.

The defense has allowed 22 points this season, the lowest total in 30 years for the first three games. The 1973 team gave up 21.

The 1973, 1981 and 1998 Tigers all finished 8-4. Each team won a bowl game and finished the season ranked in the top 25.

In 1981 the Tigers started 5-0 and beat Southern Mississippi 19-17 in the Tangerine Bowl. The 1998 squad finished at No. 21 in the AP poll and beat West Virginia 34-31 in the Bowl. In 1973 MU’s defense did not give up more than 17 points a game.

If the 2003 Tigers win Saturday at home against Middle Tennessee State, they will be the seventh MU team in 83 years to start 4-0.

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