Week three report card: Grading the MU defensive position groups against Purdue

Missouri allowed 37 points to a Purdue pass offense and backup quarterback that had barely been utilized the first two weeks of the season.
Backup cornerback Terry Petry misses a tackle in the first quarter of a 40-37 Missouri win over Purdue on Sept. 15, 2018. Jared Fisch

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — It may long remain unclear where the importance of Saturday’s 40-37 win lies within the pantheon of recent history in Missouri football.

But the close shave at Purdue, win or lose, shed some light on gaping holes that exist in each position group’s development for the Tigers. And on gaping holes in their pass coverage.

“In this case tonight, I did not want [Purdue] to have another snap offensively if we could help it,” coach Barry Odom said when asked to explain the decision to stall out the clock and bring the game down to a kick, rather than aiming for a late touchdown.

That decision proved to be smart clock management, but it also spoke to the distrust Odom may have developed throughout the night in his defensive unit.

Here’s a comprehensive report card of each Missouri defensive position group from week three.

Secondary: D-

Hot mess

Almost an F. Almost.

Odom confirmed after the game that cornerback DeMarkus Acy had indeed been concussed when he made a head-first tackle that forced him to exit early in the first quarter. It was all downhill from there for the Missouri secondary.

“He feels fine right now,” defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said of Acy after the game. “But obviously that was a blow losing him like that.”

Terry Petry entered to fill Acy’s cornerback spot, and the Tigers quickly got burned. Purdue targeted Petry on the first two plays after he came in. Those plays went for 24 and 50-yard completions. The next play was a touchdown to the other side. Three plays, 86 yards.

“You’ve gotta adjust; everyone’s gotta be ready,” Walters said. “That’s why you do ‘1s’ and ‘2s’ in practice. It’s just another example for our guys to learn from, that you’ve gotta prepare and treat game preparation like you’re starting.”

The Sparks Bowl 2.0 was supposed to headline the Tiger secondary Saturday night, but the brotherly battle was rarely on display. Purdue’s Sparks caught two passes with Missouri’s Sparks providing coverage, and Adam made the containment tackle both times.

That aside, Purdue carved up and embarrassed the Tigers. The Boilermakers entered this week with 405 total passing yards across the first two weeks of the season combined; against Missouri, they compiled 572 yards through the air.

“Anytime there’s that much in numbers and that many explosive plays, obviously you’ve gotta win your one-on-one matchups,” Walters said. “I feel like our underneath coverage was also being sucked up a little bit in the play-action game. Their play-action game did a good job of stretching the field.”

David Blough started at quarterback for the first time for Purdue and completed 39 of 55 throws. He tallied three touchdowns and one interception, which came from senior Cam Hilton on a jet-sweep-reverse-flea-flicker. The Boilermakers waltzed down the field with wide open receivers galore for a 23-second touchdown drive to end the first half. Missouri had no adjustment, no answer.

At one watershed point in the second half, Purdue’s hard count caught Hilton showing blitz out of the safety position. Hilton glanced over to the sideline while the Boilermakers rearranged, then blitzed anyway, leaving the middle of the field wide open for an easy third down conversion.

“Our eyes have gotta be in the right spot,” Walters said.

Then there was the circus play for 74 yards in the fourth quarter: a heave that pinballed around the Missouri defenders, deflecting off Hilton’s helmet last before falling to the unintended receiver for a momentum-shifting play. It was an epitomizing moment for a group that had nothing going its way.

“Freak play,” Walters called it. “You’ve kind of just gotta shake those off.”

Indeed, the Tigers were at their most bend-don’t-break in a couple of crucial situations. Christian Holmes, who replaced the struggling Petry, made a massive pass break-up on a fourth-and-1 near midfield late in the third quarter.

That and the interception might’ve been the only bright moments for a secondary that looked truly lost. Purdue would’ve had a potential game-winning touchdown through the air in the final moments if not for a friendly call reversal from the officials.

“Back to the drawing board,” Walters said.

Defensive line: D+

3 tackles for loss, 1 sack

For a Purdue team that lived and thrived on the run game for two weeks, leading the country with 8.1 yards per carry, there was not much running going on.

The Boilermakers pounded the ball on the ground on 49 percent of their plays coming into week three. The defensive line didn’t face a run until its fourth time out on the field. There were two carries in the entire first quarter.

“I definitely was [expecting more runs],” Walters said.

But still, there wasn’t enough pressure reaching the Purdue runners on those rare occasions, and more importantly, very little pressure reached Blough. The defensive ends were particularly easy to block it seemed for Purdue; Tre Williams and Chris Turner were beaten up on the edges for most of the night.

But Turner made a redemptive play in one of the biggest spots of the game when he recorded Missouri’s only sack on a third-and-goal at the 5-yard line. Instead of taking the lead early in the second half, Purdue had to kick to tie. It was another instance of bend-don’t-break within the defensive unit, though it often bent pretty heavily.

Linebackers: C

Cale Garrett: 2 tackles for loss

Generally, this group also just didn't make its presence felt enough.

Brandon Lee missed the first half due to his targeting penalty against Wyoming the previous week. Once he was back in, he endangered himself of another such call with a big hit early in the second half. It didn’t draw a whistle though, and Lee was able to settle back into the game.

Terez Hall wasn’t as loud as he had been against Wyoming, but Cale Garrett was a silver lining among the entire defensive unit.

He was standout in containment where the safeties and corners often failed, and he also provided possibly the highlight moment of the game for the defense (if that mantle doesn’t belong to the next play or to Holmes’ fourth-down stop).

Before Turner recorded the Tigers’ lone sack, it was second-and-goal on the 3-yard line for Purdue, down three but on the verge of its first lead. Garrett made a touchdown-saving tackle, coming from behind to catch the Purdue runner by his shoestrings for a loss of 2 yards. It was the best demonstration of Garrett’s ability to read plays and be in the right place at the right time throughout the night.

Special teams: A-

Tucker McCann: 4 made field goals on 5 attempts, 1 blocked Corey Fatony: 2 punts for 112 yards

Walk-off. Yes he McCann. ‘Nuf said.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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