University of Missouri

What’s wrong with Missouri’s defense? These two drives explain the Tigers’ problems

Missouri’s defense was a mess against Purdue on Saturday, but the Tigers’ were still able to leave West Lafayette, Ind. with a win.

The margin for error against No. 2 Georgia on Saturday is much smaller.

The heart of Missouri’s problems is the Tigers’ pass defense, which allowed Boilermakers quarterback David Blough to throw for 572 yards, a program record.

The issues with the pass defense can be summarized in two drives, as the Boilermakers scored 14 points in the final three minutes of the first half Saturday, cutting into a 17-point deficit and exposing most of the Tigers’ holes in the process.

After a touchdown by Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunman extended the Tigers’ lead to 27-10, Purdue took over with 7:10 left at its own 25. Missouri quickly got Purdue into third-and-14, after a tackle-for-loss and incomplete pass.

On third down, Missouri’s pass rush gave Blough plenty of time to find Jared Sparks for a 16-yard catch. The Tigers’ linemen just got to Blough as he was getting rid of the ball and true freshman defensive back Jarvis Ware was unable to get a hand on the ball.

Mizzou coach Barry Odom said his three biggest complaints about Missouri’s defense was the lack of a pass rush, the secondary’s inability to win one-on-one matchups and the zone coverage by his linebackers.

Blough took advantage of the first two on that third-down play and then started picking on Missouri’s linebackers.

After picking up the first down, Blough found freshman phenom Rondale Moore four plays later for a 34-yard gain. Blough faced no pressure and Moore was uncovered by Missouri’s linebackers in the middle of the field.

Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said Missouri was “too tenative” in its coverage on Moore and Odom said the linebackers spent too much time focusing on Blough and not their assignments.

“We were enthralled with looking at the quarterback,” Odom said.

Terez Hall, Missouri’s middle linebacker, was assigned to Moore on the play and said the defense lost its focus on the drives with a big lead right before halftime.

“I knew (Moore) was going to roll and I didn’t run all the way to the ball,” he said. “That was a bang-bang play.”

Moore’s catch got Purdue to Missouri’s 28. Blough found tight end Cole Herdman for a 14-yard gain. Blough then turned to running back D.J. Knox to take some carries after Purdue was relying on the air to move downfield.

Missouri’s defense had been prepared for an even balance between run and pass, and Walters said Purdue’s reliance on the passing game threw the Tigers off.

“Pretty much their DNA the last two years has been 50-50 run (vs.) pass,” he said. “And they ran the ball just enough in spots to where you’re like, ‘OK, they’re not going to throw the ball all day.’”

Blough eventually ran into the end zone on a 1-yard carry that cut the score to 27-17. The Boilermakers drive cut 4:28 off the clock, giving Missouri one last drive before halftime.

Missouri quarterback Drew Lock led Missouri downfield, but Purdue blocked a 50-yard field-goal attempt and got the ball back with 32 seconds left at its own 45.

Blough once again exposed Missouri’s secondary, hiting wideout Brycen Hopkins for a 31-yard gain.

Walters wasn’t as upset with the coverage on that play in comparison to others, but said Missouri should have known a big play was likely.

“We just have to understand situational football,” he said. “Obviously they’re going to take shots downfield to get into that range.”

On the next play, Blough looked to pass, but with Missouri only rushing four, a giant hole opened up in front of the pocket. Blough took off for a 21-yard run that put Purdue on Missouri’s 3.

Blough found Hopkins in the end zone on the next play on another pass that the Missouri secondary was unable to challenge. Purdue went into halftime down 27-24.

“We knew what we were about to get and couldn’t do anything about it” Odom said.

Odom classified a lot of Missouri’s mistakes as “correctable,” but added the Tigers can’t have a similar performance against Georgia and still have a chance to win.

Garrett said that Missouri’s defense needs to keep its focus on its assignments and not get distracted. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm is too good to let them get away with that.

“Your eyes drift away from your responsibility,” he said. “It’s a recipe for trouble.”

Alex Schiffer

Alex Schiffer covers University of Missouri athletics for The Star.