It was the kind of defense that wins conferences, championships and bowl games.
In other words, the kind Missouri fans have not seen out of their Tigers in quite some time. On Colorado's seven second-half possessions Saturday, the Tigers forced five punts and two interceptions. A couple of those drives started around midfield--fantastic field position to allow the Buffaloes to at least manage a field goal, but the Tigers would not even allow Colorado that luxury.
Senior DE Atiyyah Ellison does not pay as much attention to stats as fans and media types, but he appreciated the five-punt/two-pick performance.
"I didn't know the exact breakdown, but it sounds pretty good now that I hear it," he said.
It looked good at the time, too. It was Missouri's first win when it scored 17 or fewer points since the Tigers beat Houston 16-0 in 1994, ending a dreadful 0-44 streak over the past 10 years.
Ellison, who had six tackles and a sack, called the game "a lot of fun" for him and his defensive cohorts, while coach Gary Pinkel said he was impressed as well.
"I felt we had a really good game, physically, up front," Pinkel said. "I think we're making progress. (In) the second half, we really kind of elevated our play a little bit more when certainly it was necessary. I'm certainly excited about the progress we're making."
Junior CB Marcus King's progress has been sudden and impressive. After trailing senior A.J. Kincade at one corner position when the season opened, King shot past him and earned the start against Ball State. King started again and turned in a dominant performance against the Buffaloes, recording a team-high nine tackles, a pass break-up and an interception.
While King hesitated to say it was his best game as a Tiger, he eventually agreed.
"I guess you could say that," he said. "I felt pretty good out there. I knew the game plan and what the coaches wanted. I was just going out there and doing my job."
He did it well. His diving first-half interception stopped a Colorado drive before it could get started. A big part of shutting down Colorado's receivers late in the game, King said shutting down the Buffaloes and opening conference play with a victory was very important.
"It was big," he said. "Every game, you want to go out there and have that type of performance, if not better. The past few years, it has not been like that. We just want to establish that kind of play all year long… "In the end, it's all about the scoreboard. This is just one of those games where our defense got it done."
On the defensive line, slowing Colorado tailback Bobby Purify was the focus throughout the bye week and the week before the contest. Holding him to 81 yards on 22 carries was rewarding, Ellison said.
"Everybody's pumping him up and stuff like that," Ellison said. "We played well against him, so that made us feel good."
While the Tigers have pitched a couple shutout recently (against Ball State last month and Eastern Illinois in 2003), there was something different about limiting a Big 12 team to fewer than 10 points.
"We didn't even let them score in the second half…that was a big thing," Ellison said. "Coach Eberflus always says that's what we wanted."
Defensive consistency is something Missouri has not been able to accomplish on the road recently. The Tiger defense played well but was upset in the only road contest this season, at Troy on Sept. 9. Despite dominating play at home since the beginning of last season, the Tigers have not beaten a ranked team on the road since 1998. Even more, the Tigers' two biggest recent road wins have required extra time--a double-overtime 33-27 triumph at Texas A&M in 2002 and a triple-overtime 41-38 effort at Oklahoma State the season before.
Winning on the road comes down to doing the simple things right, the players said.
"It's all preparation and practice and watching film, things like that," King said. "The coaching staff will make sure we get it done and have a good week of practice."
"(It's about) everybody focusing up and playing to their ability," Ellison said. "If you can do it at home, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to do it anywhere else."