Mizzou Hoping To Do More Than Hold on Vs. WMU

The 2000 season was Gary Pinkel's final one at Toledo and his best, as the Rockets went 10-1. Their only loss: Western Michigan, which will take the field Saturday at Faurot Field with visions of a program-boosting upset. Under normal circumstances, a team in Missouri's position might be prone to overlook a less-than-elite team like Western Michigan. For the Tigers, though, that is not the case.

Bill Cubit was not the coach of Western Michigan back in 2000, but that doesn't mean Pinkel isn't familiar with him. Cubit was the offensive coordinator of a WMU team that set 26 school records in 1999, and he spent the following year as MU's offensive coordinator under Larry Smith before making a few more stops and then returning to Kalamazoo.

Cubit has turned things around quickly at WMU, going 15-9 in his first two years with a program that went 1-10 the year prior to his arrival and had posted three consecutive losing records. But the Broncos are off to an 0-2 start, having given up a combined 87 points in road losses to Virginia and Toledo.

"Bill Cubit I know well. He's a great football coach and has done a great job at Western Michigan. They were picked to win the Mid-American Conference," Pinkel said. "You all know the great respect I have for that league and the great players that have come out of that league and the great football teams and certainly the great wins they've had over the years."

Cubit's offensive creativity could challenge a Mizzou defense that has given up nearly 30 points per game. Missouri's need for improvement on defense, which has allowed both Illinois and Ole Miss to climb back into burgeoning blowouts, has been the talk of the week in Columbia.

"The intensity level [when] dealing with leads, handling those kinds of things, obviously we're not very good at it," said Pinkel, whose team built leads of 37-13 against Illinois and 35-7 against Ole Miss before losing momentum.

"There's a trend there," Pinkel said, "and trends aren't good."

Missouri has been outscored 46-27 in the second halves of its games. The question, then, is what is the problem? It was suggested that perhaps the Tigers' no-huddle, pass-heavy offense isn't milking the clock enough. But the players and coaches said the issue is on mostly the other side of the ball, where MU allows 174 yards per game and a healthy 4.8 yards per carry. Opponents have scored four rushing touchdowns to Mizzou's zero.

"We're still going to through the ball. We're still going to have high percentage completions that we know we can get. We just need to run the ball a little bit better," said quarterback Chase Daniel, who accounted for a career 396 total yards and five touchdowns in the 38-25 win over Ole Miss.

They could stand to stop the run a bit better as well. In fact, note about the defense in the athletic department's weekly pre-game release opened with, "We're not going to try and force you into believing that this Tigers defense is the reincarnation of the Steel Curtain, but …"

"The intensity level [when] dealing with leads, handling those kinds of things, obviously we're not very good at it," Pinkel said.

Mizzou's defense has been opportunistic, forcing seven turnovers, but the pass rush remains a question mark.

"We go out there trying to finish, and then the other team comes out firing … It might take us a while, but we get the job done toward the end," said defensive tackle Ziggy Hood. "The pass rush is going to have to improve. The D-Line will improve this week."

The defensive backs will be tested as well. Western Michigan wide receiver Jamarko Simmons has posted eye-popping numbers in two games: 28 catches, 302 yards and three touchdowns.

"He's really, really quick," Pinkel said. "His numbers for two games are pretty staggering so we're certainly very aware of him. But they have a lot of players that make plays."

Western Michigan, though, may be the perfect opponent against which Mizzou's rushing defense can regroup. The Broncos have been abysmal on the ground, averaging one yard per carry and 31 yards per game.
Still, should Mizzou build a first-half lead, all eyes will be on the defense. There's not a great deal of time left to show improvement before the huge showdown Oct. 6 against Nebraska. If Mizzou can't hang onto a lead against a directional school from a non-BCS conference, how will it fare when the Tigers are playing top-echelon competition?

"The good news is, we've got good enough leads that we have the problem. So it's nice that we have that problem. A few years ago we'd have been begging to have that problem," Pinkel said.

"But the bottom line is, it's gotta get fixed."

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