The 2019 Missouri Tigers football season has been a tale of two sides of the ball, and lately the offense’s treatment of the defense has been downright Dickensian.
With offense at a premium, Missouri’s defense doesn’t have much room for error. But mistakes will happen, and perfection is pretty hard to come by, if not impossible.
“Perfect. That’s hard, to play perfect,” cornerback Jarvis Ware said.
Missouri’s recent run of poor play shouldn’t be pinned on the defense. In fact, defensive coordinator Ryan Walters’ unit has played arguably its best football of the season during this on-going losing streak. Against ranked opponents Georgia and Florida, both of which have offenses in the top half of the SEC, Missouri allowed just four touchdowns.
Right now Missouri is ranked ninth in the nation in total defense and sixth in passing defense. But with the offense’s growing touchdown drought, the defense somehow needs to do better.
“If we can go out there and execute (on defense), most likely we can leave with a W,” Ware said.
Normally, that is the case, but this losing streak has shown that a defense can only do so much. In each of the past four weeks, a case can be made that the defense played well enough to earn a win. Ultimately, to win, you need to score, and Missouri’s offense just hasn’t been able to do very much of that. Through two games in November, Missouri’s offense is averaging only 13 first downs per game. In October, that number was 21, and in September it was 23.7.
Missouri’s ability to sustain drives has fallen off a cliff, and the defense has suffered as a result. Against Vanderbilt, the game in which Missouri’s losing streak began, the Commodores had the ball over five minutes more than the Tigers, and as the game wore on, Missouri’s defense had a harder time getting stops. The same was true against Kentucky, who had the ball for nearly seven more minutes than Missouri. And almost unbelievably, Georgia had the ball for over 11 minutes more than the Tigers. When the disparity in time possession is that large, it is hard to expect the defense to constantly keep the opponent off the scoreboard.
“That’s always our goal, to hold the offense to no points,” safety Joshuah Bledsoe said. “We have to try to do that every time.”
With the offense seemingly not up to the task on its own, it may be up to the defense to make a big play like a takeaway to jumpstart the offense, or even just get points on the board. Against Florida, linebacker Nick Bolton dropped a would-be interception that he could have ran into the end zone untouched. Cornerback DeMarkus Acy dropped two would-be picks.
While the offense was more to blame for the 23-6 sleeper against the Gators, those were plays that needed to be made by the defense. The defense missed its chance to do something big, and it cost the team potential points in what at one point was a close game.
Missouri will continue to lose if its offense doesn’t figure things out. But if the defense can create more turnovers, it could potentially spark the offense.
“Your margin of error is small,” Walters said. “The 50-50 balls, we have to make a play. The chances for turnovers you get, you have to make them.”
During this stretch, the defense has publicly held itself to a high standard, and the players have insisted they don’t harbor a grudge against the offense.
Still, to consistently shut out teams is pretty much impossible, and it would require near-perfection on defense. But that’s not likely.
“We know we’re not going to be perfect,” Bolton said. “It’s almost impossible to be perfect in the game of football.”