COLUMBIA — There was a common cry after Missouri’s 52-24 win over Western Michigan on Saturday: consistency, consistency, consistency.
“I feel great we’re winning, but I’m a perfectionist,” Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said after the game. “I look at things we need to improve. But what we need to do is become a more consistent football team.”
Pinkel cited quarterback Chase Daniel’s two interceptions and the brief offensive lull in the third quarter as areas for improvement. But what has kept the coach’s heart racing has been the inconsistency of the defense, which looked great in the first half against the Broncos but had difficulties trying to stop their offense in the second.
“I think we made a lot of mistakes,” defensive tackle Ziggy Hood said. “We probably were over-running the ball too much. But this week we’re going to get that corrected.”
The Broncos, who averaged just 31 yards on the ground in their first two games, ran for 132 yards against the Tigers, 86 of which came in the second half. And after the Tigers held the Broncos to 3 first-half points, they gave up 21 in the second and allowed Western Michigan to cut a 28-point lead to 14 early in the fourth quarter.
That has to be a major concern for the Tigers, who will face much better offenses in Big 12 Conference play, beginning with Nebraska in two weeks.
“I feel that we can be a lot more physical and limit our mistakes,” defensive end Tommy Chavis said. “To be out there and have mistakes and stuff, it really hurts us.”
Despite the second-half lapses, there are signs the defense is improving. The Tigers gave up 372 yards of total offense on Saturday, compared to the 435 they gave up against Illinois and the 534 they surrendered to Ole Miss.
They also continued to force turnovers. Brock Christopher and Justin Garrett each had an interception and Hood recovered a fumble in the second quarter with Western Michigan driving in MU territory. Hood had his best game of the season on Saturday. He constantly disrupted the Broncos’ backfield, registering six tackles, including one that went for a 5-yard loss.
“He had a real good game,” Chavis said. “Ziggy always has a good game. I feel like he did good, but he probably feels that he could do a lot better than he did.”
Hood’s fumble recovery was just one of several instances where the defense tightened up when it looked like the Broncos would score. In the second quarter, the defense was backed up at its own 32-yard line after Daniel threw an interception. But the defense didn’t budge and forced a turnover-on-downs four plays later.
Earlier in the quarter, the Broncos had the ball on the Tigers’ 13-yard line, but a mixture of offensive penalties and stout defense drove them back to the 31 and out of field goal range.
“The defense came together,” Hood said. “We did a lot of film study during the week, so we knew what they were doing. We came out and adjusted, and when they did back us up in a corner we came out fighting.”
Now the defense’s task is to perform like that for four quarters. As Pinkel said, it’s all about consistency.
“I think we made progress,” he said. “But I think we still got a long way to go.”
MU RANKED: The Tigers (3-0) cracked the national polls for the first time this season, ranking 25th in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ polls. Nebraska, meanwhile, dropped to 24th in the AP and 22nd in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ poll after Saturday’s 49-31 loss to USC.