LINCOLN, Neb.- Through five weeks, the Missouridefense had heard about how much it needed to step up its play afterstruggling through the non-conference portion of the schedule.
This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. With only defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams missing from2007's starters, the defense was supposed to be a huge strength, not a unit the Tigers' offense needed to carry.
This was the defense's chance to re-establishitself against an efficient offense. Nebraska had yet to be held under30 points in any of its first four games.
This time, the defense wasready for the challenge.
Just like it did a year ago, the Tigers' defense usedits conference opener to prove to its critics -- and itself -- that it wascapable of stopping a quality offense when it needed to.
The Cornhuskers used one series to pass lastseason's six-point output, but then the defense tightened. AlthoughNebraska moved the ball with relative ease in that series, the Cornhuskers only mustered one more scoring drive the rest of the game:a field goal at the end of the second quarter.
The rest of the game, Missouri's defenseshowcased how it had improved during the bye week. The Tigers slowed Nebraska's rushing offense, which entered averaging 155.5yards a game. In the first half, Nebraska managed seven yards onthe ground, and its rushing offense was never a factor.
The Tigers also created turnovers and avoided makingmistakes that would have allowed the Cornhuskers to stay close. Insteadof committing penalties and negating good defensive plays, Missouriplayed a disciplined game. Brock Christopher's personal foul in thethird quarter was the only flag the Tigers received on the night.
The Tigers even managed to score where Nebraska couldnot. Missouri used its preferred method of defensive scoring whenChristopher became the third linebacker this season to return aninterception for a touchdown. Christopher's touchdown marked the fourthtime in Missouri's five games that a linebacker has returned aninterception for a touchdown.
But although there were several positives, it was farfrom a perfect game for the defense. Despite keeping Nebraska's offensemostly silent, the Tigers' pass defense struggled to keep theCornhuskers from moving down the field quickly. Nebraska quarterbackJoe Ganz found several gaping holes in the Missouri defense that he wasable to exploit for big gains and an extension of Nebraska's scoringdrives.
That problem still needs to be solved if Missouri'sdefense is to remain a strength, considering that Missouri's next twoopponents, Oklahoma State and Texas, both boast efficient quarterbackswho are very capable of taking advantage of holes in the secondary.
But compared to where the Missouri defense appearedto be before the Nebraska game, the amount of progress made outweighedthe amount of work that the defense still needed to complete.