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Monday, September 1, 2014

Defense comes to life against Redbirds

Sept. 25, 2007

While Missouri's offense continues to draw the most attention after defeating the Illinois State Redbirds 38-17, the defense quietly put together its best game of the season.

Coming into Saturday's game, the Tigers were allowing 447 yards a game, which was 97th in the country. But the defense allowed the fewest yards yet this season, as the Redbirds had 397 yards.

Although it is an improvement from previous games, it still wasn't a dominating game, considering Illinois State plays in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA.

"We haven't even come close to putting our complete game together with offense, defense and special teams," junior quarterback Chase Daniel said.

Even though MU gave up yards, they clamped down on the Redbirds in the red zone.

With the Tigers leading 14-0 in the first quarter, Illinois State had a first and goal from the MU 10.

On the first play, sophomore running back Geno Blow ran for six yards. Then MU stopped the Redbirds for no gain on the next two plays, forcing a field goal.

Then Daniel threw an interception, and Illinois State found itself with another first and goal at the MU six.

Once again, the Tigers stopped the Redbirds short of the end zone, forcing Illinois State to go for it on fourth and goal from the three.

Illinois State senior quarterback Luke Drone threw a fade toward Illinois State sophomore wide receiver Eyad Salem, but MU senior cornerback Darnell Terrell leapt up and broke the pass.

"We throw an interception down there and they come away with no points," coach Gary Pinkel said. "I thought that was outstanding. We've had some really good red zone stops. There were some good things there, but there are certain things we need to get better at."

Maybe because of the shortened field, the Tigers defense played better in the red zone. But no player could give a real reason why they improve down there.

"We're like 'OK, we can do this in the red zone, but we have to stop them before they even get going,'" junior defensive end Stryker Sulak said.

Despite the improvements made in concentration and tackling, the defense can't act too content with Nebraska coming to town on Oct. 6. There are still skills to work on and formations to tweak.

"This next week, we won't practice, but we will throw some extra walk-throughs in there and film," junior linebacker Brock Christopher said. "Just being fundamentally sound and doing our job the whole time will be the key to that game."

Sulak said the team needs to work on team tackling before playing Nebraska.

Illinois State had too many big plays in his eyes because the initial tackler couldn't bring the runner down and other players took too long to help out.

Yet, the starters held Illinois State to 10 points, with Illinois State's other touchdown coming in the closing minutes.

Holding strong in the red zone is one key for this success, said senior tight end Martin Rucker.

"Because we're sitting on the sideline like, 'Why are they getting these yards?' They're giving up these plays, but when it really counts, they didn't break," he said. "They kept them out of there, so we had to go out and do our job. Moving the ball down the field and helping them out."

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