Missouri defensive tackle Kobie Whiteside had a little extra motivation for the game against Florida.
As the Tigers took on the then No. 11 Gators, Whiteside had an added reason to want to perform well. There was a certain set of eyes watching from the lower bowl that he knew well.
This past weekend, Dee Dee Whiteside made the trip from Houston for the Missouri-Florida game to watch her son play for the first time this season. And her son made the trip more than worthwhile.
Whiteside finished with two sacks, both in the first half.
He and Jordan Elliott, Missouri’s other starting defensive tackle, each played well Saturday. They combined for three sacks and eight solo tackles.
The 23-6 loss, the Tigers’ fourth straight, overshadowed their efforts. But the duo, perhaps more than any other two players on the defense, kept Missouri in the game through most of the first half and early in the second.
If only the Missouri offense could have scored a touchdown or two.
For much of the game, Whiteside and Elliott overpowered Florida’s interior offensive linemen. The defensive tackles won’t win any foot races anytime soon, but the duo proved nimble and crafty while rushing the passer.
It started from the very first offensive snap.
Whiteside and Elliott completed a twist in which Whiteside crashed down to the offensive lineman to his right and Elliott ran around him. In the process, Elliott came within two steps of Florida quarterback Kyle Trask. The Gators signal caller still completed the pass, though.
But the next series, Whiteside got to Trask. Instead of trying to bull rush the Florida center, Whiteside completed a swim move. The off-balance attack forced the offensive lineman to chase Whiteside as he sacked Trask, which led to a third-and-long and eventual punt. Then, Whiteside struck again on the next drive, picking up his sixth sack of the season.
“He played fast,” linebacker Nick Bolton said. “He knew exactly what the o-line was going to do before they did it.”
Elliott also went to a swim move for his second-quarter sack, showing some nimbleness for a big man. He now has two on the season.
The sacks are more noticeable moments, but they weren’t the only ones in which Whiteside or Elliott shined.
Earlier in the drive before Elliott’s sack, Whiteside came close to what would have been his third of the day. He broke through two blockers, one of whom fell on his back. Whiteside would have likely barreled through Trask, too, if he hadn’t fallen.
Elliott showed off his strength in the third quarter when he pushed an offensive lineman into Trask. The Gators quarterback released the pass in that exact moment, which he completed for a touchdown. Trask displayed impressive poise to stand in the pocket and complete the throw considering Elliott had shoved a large man into him.
While these two defensive tackles wreaked havoc on Florida, the Tigers struggled offensively. For the second consecutive game, Missouri failed to score a touchdown.
Just one would have made a significant difference Saturday. The defense kept Missouri within one score for much of the game.
A closer glance at that defense revealed its success went from the inside out. That starts with Elliott and Whiteside who are at the center literally, and on Saturday, symbolically.
Elliott and Whiteside have played sizeable roles in this defense that has, of late, kept Missouri from total embarrassment while the offense struggles snap after snap.
Elliott was asked after the game what needs to change for this team.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I know that we are going to continue to push and do what we can.”
Elliott and Whiteside have done just that recently. But there’s only so much the duo, and the defense, can do.
They need the offense to carry its weight if Missouri wants to avoid ending the year with two more loses.
But for now, if it wasn’t clear already, we learned Saturday the Tigers have a firm foundation in the middle of the defense in Elliott and Whiteside.