During the Missouri defense’s meeting Thursday, two days before playing at Florida, coordinator Dave Steckel reinforced the critical nature of turnovers.
Then, he had graduate assistants hand each player a reminder — a business card with the Mizzou logo that read “Takeaways = victory.”
“It was to plant a subliminal thought … because we went three weeks in a row without a turnover,” Steckel said.
Turnovers are the foundation of the Tigers’ defense, which had a streak of 47 straight games with at least one takeaway, the longest in the nation, snapped last month.
“When he handed them out, I think people kind of chuckled a little bit and thought it was a funny thing, but we all knew the seriousness of what coach Stec was talking about,” senior linebacker Darvin Ruise said.
Last season, en route to the SEC Championship Game and school record-tying 12 wins, Missouri led the conference in fumble recoveries (12), interceptions (20) and turnover margin (plus-16).
Before battling the Gators, the Tigers had a zero turnover margin this season after failing to create any against Indiana, South Carolina or Georgia — a 1-2 stretch that very easily could have been a three-game losing skid.
“It’s very frustrating, because, as a Mizzou defense, that’s what we preach — to get takeaways,” said junior defensive end Shane Ray, a Bishop Miege graduate. “Not having them these last couple weeks, we definitely could tell a difference.”
Corny as they were, the cards hammered home a message, and the result was a six-takeaway barrage during a 42-13 whopping at Florida.
Was there magic in Steckel’s cards?
“I’m going to say they worked,” said sophomore linebacker Michael Scherer, who had one of three fumble recoveries when Kentrell Brothers jarred the ball from Treon Harris. “That’s the only thing that changed from the past three weeks to this week.”
Of course, it wasn’t the cards as much as the mindset they helped foster.
“It just lets you know every time you touch your pocket, every time you feel it in there, you’ve got to be thinking, ‘Takeaways equal victory,’” said sophomore defensive tackle Harold Brantley, whose pressure on Driskel led to one of senior safety Braylon Webb’s two interceptions.
Scherer agreed, “When you think about it that much, it sounds corny and stupid, but you really do think about it when you’re out on the field. Especially this week, I know I was going for the ball much more than I ever have in my life probably. If you look at it, it worked.”
Missouri scored twice off turnovers in the third quarter — a 21-yard fumble return by senior Markus Golden after Ray dislodged the ball from Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel and Ruise’s 46-yard interception return.
Senior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent also had a fumble recovery near midfield to start the game.
It made for a fun — albeit surreal and tiring — game for the defense.
“At one point, I think it was after Darvin’s interception where he ran it back, I was way behind the play, so I wasn’t blocking anybody,” Scherer said. “But I was running down the field just laughing. I couldn’t even believe it.”
Missouri hopes a few more victories are in the cards as well.
“We’ve used this before a few years ago when we were just struggling a little bit, just kind of a positive way of emphasis,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “… We probably should hand it out every week now if it’s going to work that well.”