COLUMBIA — If you were to point to a game on Missouri’s schedule where its questionable defense would be exploited, Saturday’s game against Texas Tech might have been the one. After all, the Red Raiders entered Columbia averaging exactly 50 points per game and 500 yards of passing offense, both tops in all of college football. And they were facing a Missouri defense ranked 100th nationally in passing defense.
Something had to give.
It was not the Tiger defense.
Coming off the heels of a loss last week at Oklahoma that players felt should have gone the other way, the Tigers put together their most impressive defensive performance to date in a 41-10 victory over the Red Raiders.
“For our defense to hold a team like that to 10 points with all the turnovers, it starts with the coaches and filters down to the players,” coach Gary Pinkel said.
Those expecting to see the Missouri team that won five of its first six games with big pass plays and an opportunistic defense got more of the latter and less of the former.
Crucial takeaways and a consistent running attack defined this game as the Tiger defense held their own for a third consecutive conference opponent. The mistakes and breakdowns that were so prevalent during their nonconference schedule have occurred less frequently.
“We want to get better every week,” defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams said. “Nonconference was growing pains but now we are solid and it shows on the field.”
The 212 rushing yards Missouri accumulated allowed Daniel to pick his spots when throwing the ball,resulting in a season-low 210 passing yards on just 19 attempts. These are not the Tigers from past weeks that may have thrown that many passes in just one half, but they are a team that was encouraged by its showing last week, despite defeat. It’s a Tiger team that thinks it can keep up with anyone, and this game, the Tigers think, was further proof of that.
“Beating a ranked team like this really shows us where we’re at,” Daniel said. “We feel like we can play with anyone in the country.”
The win over Texas Tech made the Tigers bowl eligible for the season, but it could mean a lot more when looking back on this season. The Tigers have routinely digressed in past seasons following a loss. But the 2007 group is trying not to get sucked into that way of thinking.
“What’s in the past is in the past and we are a different team than those previous ones,” safety Pig Brown said.