Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri defense spent nearly three entire quarters on the field in Saturday’s 34-0 loss to Georgia, but the Tigers’ defense isn’t making any excuses.
“We win and lose as a team, so I mean, if one unit is struggling, it’s up to the other unit to pick it up,” senior safety Braylon Webb said.
If the Missouri defense wanted to divert the blame, it wouldn’t be a tough case to make. The Tigers’ offense turned the ball over five times, failed to convert on a single third down and sustained drives for an average of 1:28 with a longest drive of 3:30. In comparison, the average Georgia drive lasted 3:16, and the Bulldogs had no turnovers.
“I mean, yeah, we get tired. Any time the other offense gets more chances to score, they might get a few extra points,” linebacker Michael Scherer said. “But for us, we turned a negative into a positive. Every time we had to go back out on the field, we tried to turn in into a positive and say, ‘All right, let’s go get another stop,’ instead of, ‘Oh, here we go again.’”
Fellow linebacker Kentrell Brothers added: “They can say that the offense had five turnovers, stuff like that, but if we’re not getting turnovers and we’re not getting the offense back on the field, then it’s our fault as much as it is theirs.”
Still, the performance marked a second straight week of improvement for the defensive unit after allowing nearly 500 yards in a home loss Sept. 20 to Indiana.
Georgia’s 42:23 time of possession was a season-high. The Bulldogs had not possessed the ball for more than 32 minutes coming into the game and were even out-possessed by Troy and Vanderbilt, two teams with a combined 3-8 record this season.
Georgia averaged fewer than 65 plays per game before playing Missouri. Saturday, the Bulldogs ran 87.
On those plays, the Tigers held Georgia to 379 yards of total offense, lowest all year for the Bulldogs. The Georgia offense averaged 7.2 yards per play entering the game and gained just 4.4 against Missouri, and the Tigers nearly halved the Bulldogs’ average of 7.1 yards per carry to 3.6 on Saturday.
“Coach Steck (Dave Steckel, defensive coordinator) had a really good game plan, and it’s all about gap integrity, fundamentals, and from a linebackers’ standpoint, I think we all played pretty well this week and also D-line,” Brothers said. “But I mean, they ran the ball a lot of times. You can only limit them so much.”
A week before, Missouri held South Carolina to 338 total yards and 4.3 yards per play, both season lows for the Gamecocks.
The Tigers have also cut down on the number of big plays allowed, something that was a weak spot for Missouri early in the year.
In the season opener against South Dakota State, Missouri allowed a run of 75 yards and a 45-yard pass. Against Georgia, the Tigers didn’t allow a single play of more than 18 yards, and South Carolina had just one play go for more than 30.
“We really cut down on letting up big plays,” Scherer said. “All that is a mental lapse for a play, so we’ve really cleaned that up.”
Missouri’s defense wasn’t perfect. The Bulldogs’ low yards-per-carry average could be attributed to the absence of Todd Gurley, who is suspended indefinitely — although Georgia freshman Nick Chubb ran for 143 yards. Also, blame for the disparity in time of possession does not fall entirely on the offense.
Georgia had six drives of nine or more plays and five of four minutes or longer. Granted, three of those were Georgia final three drives when Missouri’s defense was beggining to tire, but the Missouri defense struggled to get off the field. The Tigers failed to record a takeaway for the third straight game, and Georgia converted 14-of-23 third and fourth downs.
“We’ve just got to make a few more plays to help out the offense when they’re struggling,” Scherer said.
Georgia’s marks of 3.6 yards per run and 6.03 yards per pass attempt just exceeded Missouri’s goals for the game, Scherer said.
Did he consider it a successful defensive performance?
“I mean, we lost,” he said. “So, no.”
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel had a bit more of a glass-half-full view of things.
“I’m not having excuses for them,” he said. “There aren’t any. But certainly you can’t take away some of the good things we’ve been doing on defense, and I think that’s a positive.”