“What I think will happen is Daniel and Gary Pinkel will rally the troops this week and come back with a strong effort against Colorado on Saturday.”
That’s an excerpt from the column I wrote the morning after the Austin Massacre. And that’s exactly what happened. All week long Pinkel’s mantra was that his team wasn’t focusing on bowl games or conference championships but only on what would happen “5:30 Saturday” when the Tigers kicked off against the Buffaloes. 58 points and one shutout later I’d say the strategy was fairly effective.
There’s no reason to discuss the offense’s performance. If a defense can’t pressure Chase Daniel then Missouri will put up 50+ points every day of the week. But the defensive shutout warrants analyzing.
Last week MU defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus became public enemy No.1 for Tiger fans and rightfully so after his unit’s meltdown against Texas. Pinkel and Eberflus admitted they had gone away from what had worked last season by inserting more stunts and blitzes into their gameplan. The logic was that with a more experienced group they would be able to do more things that would confuse opposing offenses. The result was a nonexistent pass rush, defensive backs repeatedly getting burned on deep passes and the disappearance of All-American safety William Moore.
If you’ll remember, I wrote after the first game of the season that I was concerned with the way Eberflus was blitzing Moore. Illinois had no trouble picking up those blitzes and neither did the teams Missouri has played since. Moore was limited early in the season by an ankle injury, but there is no reason for him to have only two tackles for loss, and no interceptions or sacks at this point in the season.
On Saturday Moore moved back off the line of scrimmage and into his more natural position in the secondary more than he has in any game this season and he came within an inch of picking off his first pass of the year. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
The defense obviously played better by getting back to the basics but how will it stack up against an offense that isn’t in shambles like Colorado’s is? That’s a question that won’t be answered until the Tigers play Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium on Nov. 29.
So then what do we take away from Saturday’s win? Here’s what I’m taking away from it: After the last play of the game when MU held off a late Colorado drive to preserve the shutout linebacker Sean Weatherspoon took off sprinting toward midfield yelling and swinging his arms wildly. He was met by an equally exuberant Jeremy Maclin. The game had been well in hand since halftime but watching these guys you might have thought they had just won the conference championship. It wasn’t good enough for them to win the game. They wanted the shutout.
That’s a pretty good example of the amount of pride this football team has. I still don’t see any way the Tigers improve enough to beat Texas or Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship if they even get that far. But at least I feel better than I did last week.