Missouri defense faces test against Indiana
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Markus Golden had trouble describing what went through his mind during one of the greatest moments of his college career.
But he still remembers how he forced Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens to lose control of the ball before snatching it in the air and sprinting 70 yards for a touchdown.
“I can’t sit here and tell you exactly how I felt,” the Missouri defensive end said, smiling. “But I know when I got to the end zone and set that ball down and looked at the crowd, it felt good.”
His teammates felt good, too.
Golden’s score increased the Tigers’ lead to 24-9 over Toledo on Sept. 7 and gave Missouri its first defensive score against a Football Bowl Subdivision team since 2008.
It was Missouri’s fifth interception of the year, and another by safety Ian Simon left the Tigers (2-0) with just one fewer pick than they had all of last season.
“There’s nothing — nothing — in my business that determines winning or losing more than that stat,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “Turnovers and turnover margin. There’s no stat that comes close to that.”
Pinkel said luck may be a factor with the interceptions, which obscure two bend-but-don’t-break performances from his defense this season.
After Golden’s return, the Rockets got two quick touchdowns to get within a point, but the Tigers stiffened and pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter to win 38-23.
In its opener against Murray State, the team trailed 14-13 after the first quarter before scoring the final 45 points of the game.
Part of the problem lies with the defense’s struggles to apply pressure.
Missouri has failed to force a fumble and has three sacks, all against Murray State.
Last year, opponents fumbled 28 times and the Tigers ranked first in the Southeastern Conference with 16 recoveries. The team also had 21 sacks.
“We just want to get as much pressure back there as we can,” end Kony Ealy said. “If we can get sacks, that’s great. But we’re not concentrating mainly on sacks, but just getting turnovers, three-and-outs, getting the ball back to our offense.”
Pinkel attributes the issue to quick-throwing quarterbacks, part of a trend in college football. Missouri will face another high-octane attack this week at Indiana (2-1), which leads the Big Ten with 50 points and 571.3 yards per game.
Nothing that the Tigers aren’t used to, however.
“I’ve seen their offense, and honestly, they’re no faster than our offense, and we practice against them every day,” cornerback E.J. Gaines said. “So the tempo shouldn’t be that big of a deal.”
While slowing the Hoosiers would be a difficult task on a normal day, Missouri will start without linebacker and last year’s leading tackler Andrew Wilson, who is suspended for the first half after being ejected for targeting in the third quarter against Toledo.
The captain described his initial reaction as “shock,” having never been forced from a game previously.
Although he has no complaints about how officials applied the rule, Wilson added, “It’s not going to change the way I play.”
And the Tigers aren’t planning to change how they play defense despite the roller coaster ride they’ve already experienced this season.
The team has still forced a turnover in 32 consecutive games, but statistics aren’t discussed in meetings. Rather, coaches concentrate on how players respond to big plays by opponents.
“For the most part, I think our guys have handled that, whatever adversity has come their way, and stiffened up when they’ve needed to,” safeties coach Alex Grinch said. “And in other scenarios we haven’t. And we need to do better at that.”