Campus Corner

MU film room | Observations on defense

Here are a few thoughts on Missouri's defense and special teams after re-watching the tape of the Tigers' 21-16 win over Central Florida. Hopefully these are some things you may not have noticed. I will post offensive observations early Saturday morning.

(FYI, I’m no coach or anything, so I got a chance to run some of these thoughts past MU’s players and coaches on Monday.)


UCF racked up 113 rushing yards on 20 attempts in the first half, ran 31 more offensive plays than Missouri and possessed the ball for 14 more minutes. Things changed in the second half, when the Knights ran for 15 yards on 15 carries.

Now, Missouri’s improved offense – the Tigers started churning out rushing yards in the half, and UCF only ran 29 plays – had something to do with it. But linebacker

Will Ebner

hinted Central Florida’s zone blocking up front wasn’t terribly complicated; Missouri just needed to get used to it.

“They like to run certain formations for certain plays, and it changes each week,” Ebner said. “We just had to adjust to what they were doing in the first half.

“Part of it was, we had some better plays that could be called against what they were trying to do…we knew what they were going to come back to in the second half.”

Defensive line coach

Craig Kuligowski

said the Tigers’ pursuit on run plays improved, too.

“We just did what we were doing better,” Kuligowski said. “I don’t know if they just got used to the plays they were seeing so they knew were the plays were going to go, but they got better penetration, played gaps better and attacked downhill better.”

Here are a few examples of that:

*On the first play of the second half, the fullback

went in motion to the field

. Missouri had seven men in the box while UCF had seven blockers. Perhaps sensing a run was coming, Ebner

took a few steps toward the line of scrimmage

when the man went in motion and

attacked hard

, taking running back

Storm Johnson

down in the backfield for a 2-yard loss.

*A few plays later, UCF

ran a sweep

to receiver

Jeff Godfrey

, but gains very little yardage because defensive end

Brad Madison took on a double team


pursued the ball

and met Godfrey

at the line of the scrimmage


*UCF ran the jet sweep play to Godfrey later in the half, but cornerback

Kip Edwards

who comes in motion

attacked downhill


punished Godfrey

for a short gain.

See what I mean? That kind of stuff happened all half.


The defense also deserves credit for improving its tackling. UCF rarely attacked downfield, instead opting for short passes, a little bit like South Carolina. However, the Tigers found these guys much easier to tackle than Marcus Lattimore (surprising, I know).


Blake Bortles

finished 29-of-43 for 267 yards and two touchdowns, but his receivers rarely gained yards after first contact. Bortles was also forced to throw the ball away several times because of a fierce pass rush led by

Sheldon Richardson


Kony Ealy


Michael Sam



Speaking of Sam, here’s a quick breaking of his game-changing sack of Bortles late in the first half. Bortles lined up

in the shotgun

, and Sam simply flew off the ball, executed a

terrific rip inside

past the left tackle – who had clearly prepared for an outside pass rush – and

dragged Bortles down

. The play of the half.



E.J. Gaines

finished the game with 13 tackles, a preposterous number for a cornerback.

“Most of them were in the run game – they ran a lot of outside plays this week, that’s why I had the tackles I did,” Gaines said. “I didn’t do anything special, it was just me making the plays I was supposed to make.”

There’s some truth to this; UCF used a lot of zone-running plays, and the flow of the blocking sometimes led the tailbacks to the outside at some point during their runs. But UCF also showed a willingness to throw at Gaines – who consistently lined up on the right side of the quarterback on Saturday, while Edwards lined up to the left – completing three of six passes on him, though some were in zone coverage.

The Knights also ran two consecutive screens to Gaines' side of the field in the fourth quarter, both of which he perfectly diagnosed and blew up. Gaines also made the play of the day late in the game by not only making a tackle on Godfrey during the Knights' final driving, but forcing the game-clinching fumble, too.


Marcus Murphy

’s 66-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter was the result of a perfect play call and solid blocking.

After receiving the punt, Murphy

made an unblocked defender miss

and it was off to the races. He got big blocks

by receiver Jaleel Clark


defensive end Shane Ray

and was then escorted to the end zone by linebacker

Markus Golden


“We ran a left return,

all those guys went to the right

and it just opened up that whole left side and Murphy took off,” Ray said. “My job was to come make that play and that’s what I did.”

Murphy said the hole was where they thought it would be. Kuligowski is in charge of the punt return team.

“That’s a good call from Coach Kul,” Murphy said. “We set it up perfect. He kicked it pretty far, so it allowed me to catch the ball and adjust to my blockers.”