COLUMBIA — The most prestigious statistic for a defensive back is the interception, but sometimes all a corner has to do to make an impact on a game is get one hand on the ball.
Defensive back Darnell Terrell, the Tigers’ active career leader in passes broken up, showed that in the Tigers 38-17 win over Illinois State on Saturday.
With the Tigers leading 14-3 early in the second quarter, Redbirds coach Denver Johnson decided to go for the end zone on fourth and goal from the three instead of kicking a short field goal. Redbirds quarterback Luke Drone floated a pass high to wide receiver Eyad Salem who was covered closely by Terrell.
“He kinda tried to push off, but instead of panicking I stayed focused and stayed patient and then when he went up for the ball, I went up for the ball,” Terrell said.
Terrell soared in the air and knocked it away cleanly to prevent the Redbirds from climbing within one score. It proved to be an important stop in a game where the Redbirds, of the Football Championship Subdivision, stuck with the Tigers until the fourth quarter.
“As a defense we had to step up to the plate, make a statement and get that drive out of there,” Terrell said.
The defense, led by Terrell, did just that and stemmed building momentum the Redbirds had after picking off quarterback Chase Daniel in Missouri territory. Daniel then marched the Tigers on a 97-yard scoring drive that put Mizzou up 21-3 and ensured that the Redbirds wouldn’t seriously threaten again.
“We throw an interception down there and they come away with no points, and I thought that was outstanding,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “We’ve had some really good red zone stops.”
Terrell’s tip was the latest big play in a career that has seen several clutch performances including big games in his two bowl appearances. He sealed the Tigers’ 2005 Independence Bowl victory when he picked off South Carolina quarterback Blake Mitchell with under two minutes to play and had 12 tackles and forced a fumble in the 2006 Sun Bowl loss.
His success has helped Terrell develop a confident mentality that makes him want to have the ball thrown at him, especially in a key situation like the one in the beginning of the second quarter.
“As a corner you have to live for those type of situations,” Terrell said. “When you’re playing man-to-man, especially in a goal line situation when you really have no help, it’s an opportunity you really have to take advantage of to show people what you can do.”
Terrell has been showing off his skills since the beginning of last season when he earned a starting spot and was named Honorable Mention to the All-Big 12 Team. He led all defensive backs with 70 tackles last season, but wasn’t producing the way he wanted to in the beginning of the season.
“I’ve improved a lot,” Terrell said. “Earlier in the season I wasn’t staying very focused, and now I go out there with the mentality that they are going to throw the ball at me every play.”
The change in attitude has helped him grow better as the season has progressed, but there are still some technical issues Terrell feels he needs to work on.
“I think I can improve upon breaking on the ball a little faster, just little things that I need to do in terms of technique that I can do better and make more plays down the road,” Terrell said.