Overall, Missouri has shown marked improvement on the gridiron from week one to week two. And, Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel has repeatedly emphasized the importance for his team of continuing to get better week after week.
During the first two weeks, the Tigers have given up 273 net rushing yards, an average of 136.5 rushing yards/game surrendered to South Dakota State and Toledo. But a closer look reveals that 187 of those rushing yards have come on just 4 plays. Eliminate those big plays, and the Tigers would be yielding a paltry 43 rushing yards/game.
ShowMeMizzou.com looks into the cause of the big plays, and what the Tigers need to do to eliminate the big plays on the ground.
Missouri’s defensive end Markus Golden had an answer. He said that the Tigers just need to play football the way they’re being coached to play.
“We’ve got to stay in our gaps and make tackles,” said Golden. “Every time they get a big play on us, it’s because of something because we did, not because they made some amazing play. It was because we didn’t get in the gap, or missed the tackle. So, we’ve just got to fix those things……………………………………… Any time we’ve given up a big play, it’s been because we had a missed assignment or a missed tackle.”
Most of Toledo’s big plays came against Missouri in the 3rd quarter when the Tigers were in what Defensive Line Coach Craig Kuligowski referred to as a “specialty defense” for Missouri, which features a 3-man front, with 3 LBs stacked behind them. It’s not Missouri’s regular defensive alignment, and one with which the players are less familiar.
“It’s a work in progress,” admitted Coach Kool, speaking of their 3-3 stack defensive alignment.
“If you don’t make tackles, if you don’t pressure the quarterback, if you don’t match up, and if you don’t stay in your gaps where you’re supposed to be up front, none of it works,” explained Coach Kool.
Coach Kool talked about the breakdowns that led to the big plays against the Tigers in Mizzou’s first two games.
“It’s a combination of gap assignments and missed tackles,” explained Coach Kool. “Usually if you see a big gain, there were three guys on the defense who made some sort of mistake that led to the big gain. On one big gain (at Toledo), two guys got out of their gap, and the third guy missed the tackle. So, there were three guys altogether. If the first guy doesn’t do it, and the second guy doesn’t do it, then it gets to the third guy. So usually, there’s a three-guy mistake on any kind of a big gain.”
Coach Kool explained that on SDSU’s 75-yard run, Lucas Vincent was supposed to collision the center. “He didn’t collision the center. He came in there and he got a little bit out of position.” That knocked the blitzing Michael Scherer out of position. And, Ian Simon missed the tackle.
“That’s the way it is,” explained Coach Kool. “When three guys mess up, there’s usually a big play.”
The head coach weighed in on the subject of the big plays his team had surrendered.
“It’s the ability to fill gaps,” explained Coach Pinkel. “In our defense, you have gap (responsibility). Every player is responsible for a gap. And if a linebacker or defensive lineman goes through the wrong gap, that leaves another gap open. Are you blitzing? Are you in man coverage? Or, are your run supports out all over the place rather than sitting in a zone, being able to come on down? And, (Toledo) hit on a couple of plays, and very similar calls. You know, that’s when your safeties have got to make plays. You know, you want the 16-yard gain, not the 45-yard gain. So, we’ve got to improve on that. And, I think we’re very capable. The guys in the back end certainly played a year ago, and they’re very capable of doing that. That’s just something we have to improve on. You’d like to say it’s all fixed now. But, we can become a lot better football team on both sides of the football. A lot better! We’ve got a long ways to go to reach the potential of this team.”