Simpson helps MU mature into elite defense

The junior safety is tied for the team lead with 46 tackles.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:19 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

After Missouri’s 28-20 loss at Texas on Saturday, there wasn’t a Tiger angrier than Jason Simpson.

Despite leading the Tigers with five solo tackles and a forced fumble, Simpson, a junior safety, dwelled on the fact that the Tigers failed to recover more than one of the four fumbles they forced. If the Tigers had recovered some or all of those, it could have been a different outcome, he said.

Simpson, though, can’t be too critical of his play after another solid game. His consistently aggressive play this season has made him into one of the on-field leaders of the Big 12 Conference’s best defense in terms of yardage allowed (266 yards per game).

“I feel very confident with myself and with my defense,” Simpson said Monday at the Tigers’ weekly media day. “My confidence in the defense boosts my confidence more. I know if I don’t make a play, somebody is right behind me (to get) my back, and I think everybody feels that way.”

That confidence has let Simpson aggressively pursue the ball and be around the line of scrimmage. Simpson is tied for the team lead with 46 tackles and has forced a team-best two fumbles.

Simpson’s best attributes are his relentless energy and emotion, which in turn fires up his teammates. He displayed this energy at Texas, where few of the 82,981 fans in attendance cheered for the Tigers (4-2, 2-1 Big 12 Conference).

“Jason Simpson is a great competitor,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “He plays with remarkable emotion. He is a verbal leader out there. I’m very proud of him as he has matured through the program. He’s fiery. He’s a little different type personality out there, which I like. Guys like that you want on defense, as much as you can get.”

The Tigers held the Longhorns to 299 yards, 106 through the air, which is an impressive result against a powerful offense. The Tigers also intercepted Texas quarterback Vince Young twice.

“Last year, the defense had just been put in, and everybody was kind of struggling with all the techniques and everything,” Simpson said. “And now, we know it so well everybody can go out there and just play. They’ve got me in a lot of positions to help the team out and get my job done.”

Simpson said the coaching staff approached him about becoming a leader earlier in his career, but he said he finally feels as if he has established that role.

“I know I’ve tried to (become a leader), but I had to get everything going,” he said. “I couldn’t just play great on the field. I had to get my whole life good, so people can follow me or just listen so when I’m out there people I can motivate people, ‘You know what, things are going bad, I’m going to make a play.’ Then I encourage other people to make a play. It’s good for our defense and our team.”

Against Baylor with the Tigers leading 6-3, Simpson produced the turning point of the game when he intercepted quarterback Dane King and returned it 46 yards. The Tigers’ offense converted the turnover into a touchdown and then rolled to a 30-10 victory.

Such ball-hawking will be at a premium Saturday when the Tigers face No. 22 Oklahoma State. After turning the ball over twice in a 36-20 loss to Texas A&M, the Cowboys have committed four turnovers and have a plus-13 turnover margin.

“That’s something we have to do every time,” Simpson said. “It just so happened that three of the fumbles we had fell back into their hands. Nine times out of 10 that’s not going to happen, so we can’t get discouraged. We just have to keep popping them out and be hawks on the ball.”

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