COLUMBIA — The reassuring pats on the back Missouri coach Gary Pinkel received after his team’s loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 14 did nothing to assuage the sting of defeat.
This program is past moral victories, he said. This team expected to leave Norman, Okla., with a win. And when it didn’t, Pinkel quickly reminded his team what its goals are during last Tuesday’s team meeting.
“I wanted to really make (it clear) to them that there’s nothing wrong with feeling good you played well,” he said. “But if you’re not bitterly disappointed that you lost that game against Oklahoma, then your standards aren’t high enough.”
His players got the message.
The Tigers washed out the foul taste of last week’s loss and played their most complete game of the season on Saturday, dismantling Texas Tech and its No. 1 offense 41-10 in front of a raucous homecoming crowd of 63,396.
Between two high-powered offenses, this game figured to be a high-scoring shootout where the team that had the ball last would win.
Apparently the Tigers’ defense never got the memo.
For the second time in as many years, the Tigers shutdown Red Raiders quarterback Graham Harrell and his group of offensive bandits. Behind the game plan of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, MU was able to hold Tech to 388 yards and 10 points, compared to the 582 yards and 50 points it averaged through its first six games.
“Matt tries to mix it up a lot,” Pinkel said. “Sometimes we rush three, drop eight. Sometimes we rush five. Occasionally we rush six, sometimes four. We twist up a lot, roll the coverages, disguise different things.”
The Tigers clearly had Harrell fooled. Their pressure was relentless, hurrying Harrell nearly every play and tallying three sacks for minus-28 yards. When Harrell did have enough time to pass, the Tigers forced him to make uncharacteristically bad choices.
The Tigers had their mitts on the ball all game long, breaking up passes and intercepting Harrell, who had just three picks all season, four times.
“We knew if you can get to him early you can kind of rattle a guy like that,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “That’s how you disrupt an offense and a quarterback like that.”
The Tigers set the tone on Tech’s fifth offensive play of the game. Safety Pig Brown tipped Harrell’s pass, sending it high into the air for what seemed like eternity. Like a punt returner, defensive end Stryker Sulak calmly waited for the ball to drop into his arms. When it finally did, he raced 38 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
“The only thing I thought about was I’m not going to drop this,” Sulak said. “If I get nailed, I get nailed. I just wasn’t going to drop it.”
The defense’s ball-hawking mentality continued throughout the game. The Red Raiders went for it seven times on fourth down, only to be shut down by the Tigers on four of those tries.
The Tigers’ physical play also brought one of the nation’s best freshmen back down to earth after a record-setting start to the season. Tech receiver Michael Crabtree entered the game with 17 touchdowns, but on Saturday, the Tigers held him out of the end zone. He also dropped several passes, appearing to be more concerned about oncoming hits than catching the ball.
That, of course, was the Tigers’ goal.
“When they catch the ball in the secondary, we want to punish them and try to make sure that when they come back, they know they’re going to get hit,” said Brown, who led the team with 14 tackles.
Perhaps after a win like Saturday’s, Pinkel and his team will be more welcoming to gestures of encouragement.
“This was a great win for the program coming off of a hard loss at Oklahoma,” quarterback Chase Daniel said. “Coming in here, beating a ranked team, and beating them pretty handily, it says a lot about our program. It says a lot about where we are at from years past. But we’ve still got a long way to go.”
CLIMBING THE LADDER: The Tigers moved up in the polls Sunday. They were ranked 13th by both the Associated Press and USA Today. Kansas moved up to No. 12 in the AP and No. 10 in USA Today after its 19-14 win over Colorado.
INJURY UPDATE: Running back Tony Temple was held out of Saturday’s game after bruising his sprained ankle during Wednesday’s practice. Pinkel said he was uncertain on Temple’s status for next week’s game against Iowa State.
Receiver Jeremy Maclin briefly left the game in the first half after bruising his left shoulder. He returned in the second half and caught a 57-yard touchdown pass. Safety William Moore also returned to the game after spraining his shoulder in the first half.
RECRUIT COMMITS: Highly-touted recruit Blaine Dalton orally committed to the Tigers moments after their victory over Texas Tech. Dalton, a junior quarterback at Blue Springs South, is one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation and is expected to be ranked as the No. 1 player in the state for the class of 2009.