On a damp, cloudy day in Columbia, the Missouri Tigers' defensive squad was as crisp and hard-hitting as possible for the 18th of April. Led by former linebackers coach Dave Steckel, the defense showed its stripes in a 68-40 victory over Blaine Gabbert and the rest of the vaunted Tigers offense.
The secondary shone early in the first quarter, as defensive back Trey Hobson broke up a pass thrown by Gabbert with 5:56 to play. Even after yielding a field goal to the offense, the defense only trailed 5-2, and would not relinquish their lead for the rest of the game.
The scoring system, revamped after a 71-28 offensive rout last year, was of little consequence to defensive coordinator Steckel.
"I still don't understand the scoring, I just want to play hard," he said.
Most Tigers were playing quite hard, breaking through the offensive line and getting to the backs with startling speed for a spring game.
Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel noted after the game, "I think we've got a lot of speed on defense; we can run."
Indeed, the Tigers did run; senior defensive end Brian Coulter roamed freely across the field, delivering a big hit with about five minutes to play in the first quarter. Coulter showed great promise during the spring game, leaving Tigers fans quite excited for what he has to bring to the team in the fall.
Kip Edwards made the biggest play of the day with 2:08 to go in the first quarter, picking off a Blaine Gabbert pass and returning it 55 yards into the Black team's territory. The defense, however, showed its flaws when Jerrell Jackson weaved his way through the secondary with a 38-yard jaunt to the 26-yard line.
Coach Steckel explained that he was "emphasizing everything, but if you want to win football games you have to win 3rd downs and you have to win the red zone."
Steckel appeared satisfied with the team's effort, but also remarked that he would have to take a second look at the game tape. The defense led 40-19 at halftime, a stark contrast from last year's offensive showcase. This year, it was the defense that showed its prowess. The defensive line generally showed strength, and it got a few rushes on Gabbert with hopeful starters Andrew Gachkar and Aldon Smith.
"There are no jobs locked in here," Steckel said, noting that the players' performances will dictate who starts and who does not, as it has always been under Gary Pinkel.
If the defense can deliver with the same ferocity that it showed on Saturday, Tigers fans have a lot to look forward to this fall. For most of the defense, it was a time to fine-tune their game and to get in their mode. Steckel is already looking past the game and on to the next step before the Tigers open their 2009 campaign in St. Louis on Sept. 5.
"I'm one of those people that says we are on to the next thing already, summer ball," Steckel said.
Keys for the defense:
The defense limited the offense to only 1 touchdown, a year after giving up several.
Held offense to just 355 total yards
Safety Del Howard led the way with six total tackles, including five solo plays.
Andrew Gachkar picked up five tackles.
Aldon Smith contributed nice pass rushing and recorded 4 tackles of his own.