COLUMBIA — All we need is a place to stand.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
That has become a mantra, perhaps even something of a rallying cry, for the Missouri defense this season.
Several Tigers invoked the phrase, which they said has been oft-repeated by defensive coordinator Dave Steckel throughout the season, when asked to explain the defense’s red-zone success Saturday in a 24-10 victory at then-No. 24 Mississippi.
The Rebels drove inside the Missouri 10-yard line three times but came away with only three total points.
“Our coach always says, ‘If you have a place to stand, you can make a stop,’” senior cornerback Randy Ponder said. “Coach Stec preaches that all the time as far as ‘All we need is a place to stand.’ It doesn’t matter if they’re on the 99-yard line or the 1-yard line, we just need a place to stand.”
No. 5 Missouri, 10-1 and 6-1 in the SEC, is tied for fourth in the Southeastern Conference in red-zone defense, allowing 18 touchdowns and 11 field goals in 36 trips by opposing offenses inside the 20-yard line.
“You keep battling,” Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said. “It’s not about yards, it’s about points. … You have to have good players and get coaches and you’ve got to make plays. It’s nice to have a team that’s good in the red zone, and we’re a very good red zone defensive football team.”
In fact, Missouri is actually better in the red zone in conference games than it was during nonconference play after freshman Harold Brantley blocked a 23-yard field goal try by Mississippi’s Andrew Wilson and junior defensive end Kony Ealy helped blow up the Rebels; fourth-quarter drive inside the Tigers’ 5.
“It’s kind of like you’re at the edge of a cliff, and you’re fighting,” junior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent said. “As long as you have just a little bit of space, you can keep fighting. That’s all you need.”
All you need is a place to stand.
“It’s the same as saying never quit,” Steckel said. “It’s just about making a play.”
More than anything, it’s a mindset and, when spoken on the field, serves as a reminder.
“‘All we need is a place to stand’ is basically saying, you’ve got to increase your intensity, limit the mistakes, focus in and get a stop,” senior linebacker Donovan Bonner said. “When we hear that on the sideline, we really tune in. We live by that saying. When we hear it on the field, we rally to the ball.”
Steckel, who is in his 13th season at Missouri at fifth as defensive coordinator, isn’t entirely sure where he picked up the defense’s signature saying. He could only hazard that it was something he heard from former coordinator Matt Eberflus, who now coaches linebackers for the Dallas Cowboys.
“And he probably stole it from someone, who stole it from someone, who stole it from Pop Warner,” Steckel said. “I don’t know.”
Wherever it came from, it has served a purpose for Missouri, which boasts the second-best scoring defense in the SEC at 19.3 points per game. Only Alabama, at 9.3, is better.
“It’s an attitude that you’re talking about,” Steckel said. “When you believe in something strong enough, it’s amazing what you can do.”
Copeland an award finalist
Missouri senior left guard Max Copeland was announced Tuesday a finalist for the Burlsworth Trophy as the nation’s top player who started his career as a walk-on.
The other finalists joining Copeland are Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and Tulsa running back Trey Watts.
Copeland, a physics major, is part of an offensive line that ranks 17th in the nation in total offense and 18th in rushing, which helped key No. 5 Missouri’s turnaround season.
Fans can support Copeland’s candidacy through Dec. 4 at burlsworthtrophy.com.
Singleton unlikely to play
Officially, junior free safety Duron Singleton remains third on the depth chart at free safety, but Missouri coach Gary Pinkel doesn’t expect Singleton to play Saturday against Texas A&M.
Singleton suffered a hip flexor injury in practice last week. He didn’t travel to Mississippi and is listed as questionable.
“I don’t think he’ll play,” Pinkel said. “He’s got a hip strain of some sort. It’s unfortunate. He wants to play, but I don’t think he’ll play. Other than that, we’re pretty healthy all the way around.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.