University of Missouri

Missouri’s defense rebounds, Bolton has two picks in 38-7 win over West Virginia

DeMarkus Acy on MU’s win over West Virginia

Missouri cornerback DeMarkus Acy talks about the Tigers performance against Westminister Virginia.
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Missouri cornerback DeMarkus Acy talks about the Tigers performance against Westminister Virginia.

A week ago against Wyoming, Missouri’s defense did not have its best outing.

On Saturday, it nearly pitched a shutout.

The Tigers defense came up big against West Virginia in MU’s 38-7 win. Missouri (1-1) held the Mountaineers (1-1) to 30 yards rushing, most of which came late in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.

“We eliminated any big plays,” said Barry Odom, MU’s head coach. “Last week we gave up a 65 (yard touchdown) and a 70. We’re too good of a defense to allow that to happen.”

Halfway through the fourth quarter on Saturday, Missouri was holding West Virginia to minus-5 yards rushing mainly because of the defense’s ability to get into the backfield. Missouri had 13 tackles-for-loss, three sacks and three interceptions against the Mountaineers.

In the Tigers’ loss at Wyoming, the Tigers were caught out of position on more than one occasion, missed tackles and and at times over-pursued, despite the fact that Wyoming quarterback Sean Chambers struggled some throwing the ball.

On Saturday, Missouri gave West Virginia quarterback Austin Kendall all sorts of problems. The Tigers spent most of the game in their 4-2-5 base defense, which gives MU more flexibility against the pass or run. Kendall threw for 137 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and struggled to fool MU.

Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters’ decision to put seniors Khalil Oliver and Ronnell Perkins at strong safety resulted in strong play from that position in both pass coverage and stopping the run.

“Sometimes we don’t have to adjust to the personnel,” said Cale Garrett, MU’s senior linebacker.

Odom credited Walters for his play-calling against West Virginia and for anticipating a lot of the Mountaineers’ schemes.

Odom said West Virginia didn’t tip its hand in its season-opening win over James Madison.

“We had some things in our back pocket,” Odom said. “West Virginia was so vanilla. It didn’t look like the same team last week. I wanted to play assignment-sound and wanted to play base. There were a couple things that we had.”

Despite the fact that Missouri allowed nearly 300 yards rushing against Wyoming, West Virginia stuck to the passing game in its opening drive, going three-and-out on a trio of incompletions.

With MU up 3-0, the Tigers second touchdown was set up by a Nick Bolton interception. Bolton, a linebacker, picked off Kendall on a bobbled pass to give Missouri the ball on its own 28-yard line.

After MU’s loss to Wyoming, Garrett said that the Cowboys picked on Bolton’s inexperience by running plays his way or taking advantage of his inability to quickly diagnose them.

Against West Virginia, Bolton read Kendall’s pass on the first interception and then had another pick on backup Jack Allison’s first pass, who was promptly benched after Bolton returned it for a touchdown.

“He grew up today,” said DeMarkus Acy, MU’s cornerback, of Bolton.

Missouri’s pass rush was invisible against Wyoming, but rebounded strongly, with junior defensive end Jordan Elliott having a pair of tackles-for-loss and junior nose tackle Kobie Whiteside having a key sack on fourth down.

With 3 minutes, 30 seconds left in the first half, West Virginia slowly made its way into Missouri territory, with help from some penalties on MU. The Mountaineers got as far as MU’s 44, where an incompletion set up fourth-and-five. Whiteside snuck through the line and sacked Kendall, giving MU the ball back with 2:06 left in the first half.

Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant found Barrett Banister 90 seconds later for his first career touchdown to put MU up 31-0 at halftime.

When Odom reinstated Tre Williams at the start of preseason camp, it was unknown how much Williams would be able to contribute after having been away from the team for nine months. Williams was suspended indefinitely in December for a domestic assault charge. Williams later pleaded guilty to a peace disturbance, which allowed for his return. Against West Virginia, Williams had a quarterback-hurry and multiple hits on Kendall.

During preseason camp, MU went light on tackling, which didn’t help the Tigers in Wyoming, where missed tackles played a huge role in the loss. On Saturday, Elliott and Garrett both thought MU didn’t let any missed tackles hurt them.

“We wanted to prove a point,” Bolton said. “I think last week, people were trying to do a little bit too much. This week everyone just did their job.”

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Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.