It started in Lubbock, Texas.
During the first quarter of a 24-17 loss against Texas Tech, Missouri linebacker Andrew Gachkar, who is now in the NFL, recovered a Steven Sheffield fumble near midfield.
That was Nov. 6, 2010 — 40 games ago.
The Tigers have created at least one turnover in every game since, giving coach Gary Pinkel’s squad the longest such streak in the nation.
“We don’t really think about the 40 games in a row, but we always preach turnovers and we always preach takeaways,” said senior linebacker Andrew Wilson, who has had a hand in seven of Missouri’s 82 total turnovers during the streak. “We’re always doing takeaway drills, so it’s a big part of our defense.”
It’s also a big part of the Tigers’ success. Pinkel views turnovers as the biggest factor between wins and losses. Well, that and having great (and healthy) offensive and defensive lines.
But for defensive coordinator Dave Steckel’s unit, creating turnovers has become central to the Tigers’ DNA.
“It’s pride in who we are, what we do and what we represent — just getting after the ball and playing the ball live,” junior defensive end Kony Ealy said. “We do the same thing every day in practice.”
Pinkel, of course, doesn’t like to talk about it.
“I had a friend last night say to me, ‘That’s like the greatest stat there is,’” Pinkel said when asked about the Tigers’ streak last Saturday after a 48-17 win at Kentucky. “I said, ‘I don’t want to talk about that. Are you kidding me?’ So, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
If Pinkel was worried about a jinx, it didn’t happen. Wilson punched a ball free from the grasp of Kentucky running back Raymond Sanders midway through the third quarter. Junior linebacker Darvin Ruise pounced on the loose ball, bumping Missouri’s streak to 40 straight games.
Impressively, the Wildcats hadn’t committed a turnover in a school-record four consecutive games, but the Tigers’ strength as opportunists proved greater than Kentucky’s strength protecting the ball.
“It means a lot to our defense and really shows how hard we work at doing what we do, getting takeaways,” said senior cornerback E.J. Gaines, who has a hand in the most turnovers created (12) of any Tigers player during the streak.
While Pinkel may not be eager to talk about it, he is eager for the streak to continue when Missouri plays next Saturday at Mississippi.