Missouri forcing more turnovers in 2019

The defense has allowed just 21 points in the last three games and forced seven turnovers.
Senior linebacker Cale Garrett celebrates in the end zone following his fumble-recovery touchdown against South Carolina. Madeline Carter

In 2018, it was hard to classify Missouri’s defense as anything more than a liability most weeks.

It gave up at least 28 points six times, and over 35 four times. When Wyoming dropped 37 on the Tigers in the first game of 2019, it looked like more of the same. In the three games that followed, Missouri gave up a total of only 21 points.

A reason for such a sudden turnaround? Turnovers.

Missouri wasn’t able to take the ball away from Wyoming. It forced its next three opponents to turnover the ball seven times, with four of those going for touchdowns.

Coach Barry Odom and his assistants have placed a major emphasis on forcing turnovers, going as far as to hold “Takeaway Tuesday” at practice, where the defense focuses more than usual on creating turnovers and “getting [their] hands on the ball,” senior cornerback DeMarkus Acy said.

“It’s not enough to be just three-and-out, getting stops and the punt team flipping the field,” Acy said. “It’s about [how] we can score the ball too or we can get the ball in the offense’s hands and make game-changing plays as well.”

Odom has an additional theory for why his team has been able to get the ball back so often.

“As a defense we’re playing faster,” he said. “That comes with preparation, your habits, your trust, your belief, your faith, and then doing it, executing it, and then carrying it over — the newborn confidence and you can go play fast. So a number of things go into that. I don’t know that we’ve developed better hands, but it’s been guys who have been in position have made contested balls and ended up coming up with them.”

Of those seven takeaways, linebackers Cale Garrett and Nick Bolton have been involved in four, with Garrett returning an interception for a touchdown against Southeast Missouri State and recovering a fumble in the end zone against South Carolina. Bolton had a pair of picks against West Virginia, one that he took back for a touchdown.

“They’re making plays,” defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said. “It’s not surprising because they do it every day in practice. They do it because they’re prepared the right way. They spend a ton of time in the film room, a ton of time taking care of their bodies, and then they’re practicing Tuesday through Thursday like it’s game day. That way, when they get to the game, it’s like they’ve done it a thousand times before.”

Garrett and Bolton both have been honored as the SEC Defensive Player of the Week at different times this season.

“As much as it is a compliment to him and I, it’s more of a compliment to the rest of the defense, too,” Garrett said. “We’re just kind of the centerpiece a little bit. We’re in between everybody, but it’s a lot easier to make plays like that whenever the D-line’s playing like they’re playing and the secondary’s playing like they’re playing, so I think it’s more of a total defense award.”

Missouri’s next game will be at home against Troy University on Saturday, Oct. 5 at 3 p.m CDT.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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