After Tennessee ran Missouri off the field with 458 yards on the ground, after defensive line coach Jethro Franklin became the first casualty of a disastrous defensive start to the season and after Al Davis replaced Franklin, the Tigers’ defensive line held a meeting.
The linemen discussed where they needed to improve, and while Missouri’s line has left plenty to be desired, they landed on one main area of focus: energy.
The Tigers had sleepwalked through the Tennessee game, getting punched in the mouth with 28 points from the Volunteers in the first quarter, from which they never recovered. That had to change.
It started with being engaged in film study that Sunday, then translated into practice during the week. A difference was clear a week later, as Missouri limited North Texas to seven first-half points and 3.8 yards per carry.
“Tuesday we came in with a new mindset,” defensive end Isaiah McGuire said. “We came with a competition mindset, and we not only did that, but we fed off each other and we congratulated other teammates when they did something good.”
McGuire, Trajan Jeffcoat and Johnny Walker Jr. all had sacks after the line was kept off the board against Tennessee.
Jeffcoat also played a role in Missouri’s defensive touchdown, getting a hand up to deflect the pass that ultimately ended with a Mekhi Wingo pick-six.
Jeffcoat also helped force the Tigers’ first turnover of the game on their first defensive series, busting nearly untouched through the line and flushing North Texas quarterback Austin Aune out of the pocket into an ill-advised throw to the sideline. Cornerback Kris Abrams-Draine came away with his second interception of the season on the play.
“You saw the difference that we penetrated, we created a new line of scrimmage,” defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. “I thought we did a great job of getting off blocks. There’s times that we may (have) been in our gap. Being in our gap is not enough. We gotta strike and shed and we gotta make tackles. You saw that up front.”
Granted, North Texas is far from the kind of program Missouri will see throughout the rest of the year. The Mean Green are 1-4 playing in Conference USA. As Missouri was doing its best to keep the ship that is its season from sinking, its next opponent, Texas A&M, was beating No. 1 Alabama.
Still, Missouri will take any positivity it can get from the unit that ranks dead last in the FBS in rushing yards allowed per game. Now coming off of a win, Wilks said everyone was “locked in” at Tuesday’s practice.
Missouri will try to pull off an upset for its first SEC win of the year with Davis, who started the year as a defensive analyst, in his second game coaching the line.
Davis and the linemen went out for wings shortly after he took the reins to get more acclimated with each other.
“Coach Al was already with us and he was already in our family, so we already knew how he operated,” McGuire said. “But we know that he wants the best for us, so once you have that type of coach-player relationship where you play for each other or coach for each other, it’s done. It’s wraps.”