Blocked punt headlines Brothers’ record-setting day

Kentrell Brothers recorded a career-high 16 tackles in addition to blocking a punt.
Missouri Tigers linebacker Kentrell Brothers goes for a tackle against Southeast Missouri State Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo.

It was one of those plays that looked more like a video game glitch than real life.

As Southeast Missouri State quarterback Tay Bender swung his leg with 31 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Kentrell Brothers extended his right arm. The ball hit Brothers. And by the sheer will of physics or whatever it was in the humid mid-Missouri air Saturday afternoon, the ball miraculously landed in junior Aarion Penton’s hands halfway across the field.

Penton, who spends most of his time on special teams returning punts, got his first career punt return touchdown on that blocked punt. He was untouched for 41 yards.

“I just kind of put my hand up and he kicked right into it,” Brothers said. “It was some good play calling.”

It was a record-setting day for the senior linebacker, as he tallied a career-high 16 tackles as well as the glitch-in-the-matrix blocked punt in a 34-3 win for No. 24 Missouri.

The play – from here on out, that’s what it’s called – was no accident. Defensive coordinator Barry Odom called a blitz, anticipating a possible punt on a SEMO formation evident on fourth down throughout the contest. Bender, standing eight or nine yards back, was in no position to make a real offensive play.

Mizzou Coach Gary Pinkel knew it was a punt. So did Brothers. But fellow linebacker Michael Scherer had no idea.

“I thought they were going to run a play,” Scherer said. “Odom called a blitz right into it. It was right place right time.”

Confused, exhausted, throw in any adjective to try and describe playing a football game in 97-degree heat, all Scherer could do was watch in awe. The ball landed perfectly in Penton’s hands, and instead of wasting precious energy following the cornerback to the far end zone, the linebacker embraced Brothers in elation.

Then the cannon struck, cracking through the wet humidity in the valley that is Faurot Field and startling both lanky writers in the press box and massive linebackers on the field.

“It never fails (to scare me),” Brothers said with a laugh. “I know it’s coming but it still scares me.”

But of course, there was more to Brother’s big day than a single blocked punt – albeit an incredible one. His 16 tackles broke his previous career-high of 14, which came last year against Alabama in the SEC Championship. He hit that number Saturday afternoon with over two minutes left in the third quarter.

In other words, Kentrell Brothers was on another level.

“He was everywhere,” Pinkel said. “That’s just his experience level with coach (Dave Steckel) and Barry Odom coaching him. Instinctively, he thinks on a different level now. He can see everything.”

His football vision is impressive, but Brothers said he couldn’t have done it without his teammates. “Gap integrity,” as he called it, was crucial to getting 16 tackles. With his teammates responsible for covering their respective gaps, the linebacker could do what he does best ­— tackle.

He was second in the Southeastern Conference last year in tackles, recording a total of 122 tackles, 64 of which were solo. He averaged 8.71 per game. This year, with NFL Draft hype surrounding him, he’s hoping to step his game up while still keeping expectations in check.

There’s no magic number.

“I just want to go into the game and get as many tackles as I can,” Brothers said. “That’s my job as a linebacker.”

To do that, the senior needs to get in the proper mindset before each game. Odom gets guys hyped up, according to Brothers, talking players up, telling guys to be the hardest hitting players on the field.

His teammates listen to rap to get pumped up. Personally, the linebacker prefers a more relaxed pregame ritual. Walk into the Missouri locker room minutes before kickoff, and you’ll find 235-pound Kentrell Brothers sitting there with headphones on.

But take his headphones off, put them on, and you might be surprised.

“My teammates laugh at me, but I listen to classical music,” Brothers said.

The “Classical music for studying” Pandora station is saved on his phone for such pregame rituals. Pachelbel, a German composer from the Baroque era is a personal favorite.

Pachelbel’s most famous work? Ironically, “Canon in D.”

The violins, soft piano and flute harmonies calm him before he embraces the gridiron, going one-on-one against some of the best college athletes on the planet. Once on that field, though, his demeanor takes an aggressive turn. He’s not calm. He’s not mellow. He goes out and records 16 tackles and blocks a punt.

“That’s when the rap music comes,” Brothers said. “When I’m on the field.”

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