Kobie Whiteside might just have a future in the New York Philharmonic.
The television cameras last Saturday didn’t catch it, but after Whiteside made a fourth-down sack in Missouri’s 38-7 win over West Virginia, the defensive tackle’s celebration of choice was apparently to break out the air violin, according to his teammates and position coach.
“I told him,” defensive line coach Brick Haley said, “’You gotta find something better than that.’”
But Haley doesn’t care too much what the celebration is as long as there’s reason to celebrate. Missouri’s pass rush didn’t have much reason two weeks ago in Wyoming, when the Tigers only managed two tackles for loss and didn’t record a single sack in an upset loss.
But against a Big 12 offense the next week, the unit self-corrected with 11 tackles for loss, three of which were sacks, en route to a near-shutout. So which version of the defensive line will Missouri get this Saturday against an FCS opponent in Southeast Missouri State?
“We thought Wyoming was going to be bad,” defensive end Jatorian Hansford said. “And they came out and brought some fire. So we’re not going to sleep on any school anymore. Lesson learned. We’re going to try to tear up every school we play from now on.”
Every defensive lineman interviewed Tuesday agreed that the group got complacent against Wyoming and lacked fundamentals as a result. They were particularly sloppy at not using their eyes to read plays, a point that Haley drilled down before West Virginia.
“We talk about eye discipline all the time,” Haley said. “We have what we call pressure points, and our eyes should be on those pressure points at all times.”
“You want to see the tip of the shoulder pad of the (offensive) guard and the (offensive) tackle,” defensive end Chris Turner said. “When you do that, they’re telling you where they’re going as soon as the ball is snapped.”
The increase in focus on “eye discipline” against West Virginia worked miracles for the linemen. Turner ended up tallying his first sack in over 11 games. Hansford was seemingly everywhere in the backfield applying pressure from the other edge. Whiteside played the violin.
Eleven tackles for loss is a pretty resounding total, so finding a metric by which Missouri can evaluate whether it improves this week is difficult. The position group doesn’t set number-based goals for itself each week in TFLs or sacks, but Haley said he wants the group getting better each week.
“When you get caught up in numbers, you can lose track of the keys,” defensive tackle Jordan Elliott said. “So we try to just focus on working within the system of the defense and doing it at an efficient level. When you do that, it opens up the possibility for a lot of sacks.”
The quantitative mentality — focusing on the opponent’s supposed worth — is what misguided the Tigers against Wyoming. The pass rushers are keeping their focus on eye discipline, footwork and other fundamentals this week in an effort to almost trick themselves into thinking there’s no difference between an FCS and SEC offensive line.
The ideal result of that trick is more celebratory creativity, especially for Elliott, who doesn’t have a sack yet this season.
“I like not knowing what I’m going to do,” he said. “When I get one, it’ll come to me.”