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Still unbeaten

Crushing defense, balanced offense lead Tigers’ victory
Sunday, September 24, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:08 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

There’s a certain air of happiness surrounding Marcus Bacon that’s almost impossible to ignore. The same could be said for the calm personality and smoothness of Brian Smith.

Bacon emerged from the Missouri locker room after Saturday’s 31-6 victory against Ohio at Memorial Stadium with a tired smile on his face. He slapped hands with teammates and took the time to laugh with a few of them before addressing the media. Sweat dripped down his face. He had the look of a young child who had just finished playing all day in the sun with his best friends.

His day culminated with an interception that might have been returned for a touchdown with help from a few blocks.

When asked about it, Bacon’s eyes lit up. His fists clenched, and with an even bigger smile, his tone turned wishful.

“I wanted to score!” Bacon said. “I was upset that it didn’t happen. Sooner or later, it will though.”

Smith, on the other hand, came out from the locker room with an effortless walk and an almost tranquil tone. He said how happy he was that the team moved to 4-0, the Tigers best start since 2003. He went on about how the team would enjoy the victory, and how he was looking forward to opening up Big 12 Conference play next week against Colorado. The slight smile on his face never flickered.

[photo]

Marcus Bacon, left, and Sean Weatherspoon drop Ohio’s Voncaire Owens in the backfield during the third quarter. Bacon had an interception, which he returned 48 yards, and the MU defense held the Bobcats to 43 yards rushing on 30 attempts.

(STEVE BARTEL/Missourian)

In fact, after talking with Bacon and Smith, you would never suspect that they were challenging their defensive teammates after a slow start to the game that saw Ohio within a touchdown of the Tigers. It could have been even closer if it wasn’t for the play of the Missouri special teams.

“Before the coaches said something, of course the seniors, we already spoke our piece,” Smith said. “But the coaches came in there and basically said the same things the seniors already said. They were saying ‘This wasn’t Mizzou football.’ And we were making mistakes.”

It wasn’t a dramatic speech. No one on the team was calling anybody out. But what was said in the locker room at halftime was exactly what the defense needed to get its act together.

Bacon was more succinct with his explanation on why the defense needed to hear something extra from the seniors and the coaching staff.

“Everybody lost focus in the first half,” Bacon said.

For a unit ranked second in the nation in total defense and sacks entering Saturday’s game, a loss of focus seemed like it would be the last of the defense’s problems.

But when Ohio quarterback Austen Everson used three-step drops in the Bobcats’ version of the spread offense, it frustrated the normally calm Smith and jovial Bacon. The defense as a whole couldn’t get leverage inside or hit the gaps in the offensive line with anything close to the same success rate it enjoyed throughout the previous three games.

“I’m kind of mad it took that long for us to refocus,” Smith said. “It should have taken two series and we should have been right back at it. But it took a whole half to dominate.”

And so Bacon, Smith and the rest of the Tigers’ defense adjusted. They blitzed more. Smith remained calm. Bacon kept his positive outlook. Missouri started getting to Everson more often and forced Bobcat mistakes.

“They are a big, strong, physical football team that can wear you down,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “And I think we did wear down some and that did become a little bit of a problem in the second half.”

Solich’s words were the reason Bacon could smile and Smith could remain smooth after the game. An undefeated record and a renewed confidence, after dealing with adversity, had them both looking forward to next week.


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