MU's defense shows improvement vs. Nevada

Wednesday, September 17, 2008
L.G. PATTERSON ~ Associated Press Nevada running back Vai Taua is tackled by several Missouri players during the third quarter Saturday in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won 69-17.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Perhaps lost in the offensive fireworks from No. 5 Missouri's 69-17 romp over Nevada on Saturday, the defense also made strides.

Nevada entered averaging 540 yards in total offense, and Marko Mitchell's 42-yard touchdown catch at the end of the first half cut the deficit to 38-17. In the second half, the Wolf Pack were scoreless and held to 125 yards.

"That last play was a breakdown but a good throw," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "But overall, they're getting better and doing good things."

Missouri defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus tried to counter the bitter halftime taste with upbeat remarks.

"The main thing we did was stay positive at halftime," Eberflus said. "We told them to focus on fundamentals and to just remember that they only have each other."

Players upped the enthusiasm in their play as well.

"It was mostly attitude, and it started with the defensive line when we came out in the second half more focused," Tigers defensive end Stryker Sulak said. "When you're enthusiastic, you play differently."

The result was Missouri's first second-half shutout since a 55-10 victory at Colorado last season.

"We needed that and it came at the right time," linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "We knew we could go out and dominate that second half, and it's great for your defense whenever you do that. This could be a turning point in the season for this defense."

The Tigers have 10 returning starters on defense, but results have been spotty. They're ranked 90th in the country in total defense and last in the Big 12.

The defense was stronger after the start of conference play last year.

"It just takes time and there will be growing pains," quarterback Chase Daniel said. "If you look at it, we didn't have to score another point, and it gave the defense a lot of confidence."

The second- and third-team defenses played most of the second half. Eberflus estimated that those units have about 60 snaps on defense the last three games, which is significantly more than what last year's backups had.

Starting safety William Moore (sprained foot) and reserve linebacker Andrew Gachkar (Achilles/calf) are both listed as doubtful for Saturday's game against Buffalo, so backups might be leaned on again in the final nonconference game.

"Getting the younger guys in there will help us in conference play," Weatherspoon said. "Last year when Pig Brown went down, guys like Justin Garrett stepped in and we didn't miss a beat, so hopefully getting those young guys in will really help."

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