I openly admit that I kinda thought Coach Steckel was a bit like recently deposed Arizona Coach Mike Stoops. I have nothing against Stoops personally. Nor do I think he is a poor coach. (In fact, I feel for him getting stuck with a brutal, frontloaded schedule in a transition year for his defense.) But, I have always harbored skepticism for coaches who are more renowned for cussing and tantrum-throwing* than innovation or teaching.
* Have you ever watched Stoops on the sideline? He is in a perpetual "what just happened" stance, with shoulders shrugged and arms extended. Either that, or he's lambasting his players and coaches (or officials) on the sideline. Perhaps because my own fairly successful high school football coach was not much of a screamer, that style always makes me wonder what these coaches do in meetings and practice? How do their teams consistently get to game day and not know what to do, or do it so poorly as to invite incessant tirades?
In my defense, Steckel's military background and his "we're just gonna smack somebody in the mouth!" approach quickly became a huge part of his narrative; in no small part to distinguish him from former coordinator Matt Eberflus.
All of this preamble is to say that I had Steckel pegged as a cover-2, we-should-force-a-fumble-every-hit kind of coach. I thought he would be reticent to tinker with both personnel and scheme to try to take advantage of matchups and to confuse opponents. I was wrong. I have seen a ton of stuff that I hoped we would see. I've seen three down lineman looks where Mizzou can send a fourth or drop an extra player into coverage. I have seen some creative blitzing. I have seen far more man coverage than I thought we'd see after ASU. Steckel isn't just throwing the kitchen sink at people. You can see a basic pattern forming with the defensive play calling where Steckel really doesn't know what he has to work with in the first half. When your secondary is this young you just don't know. Much like Yost, in the first half he's seeing what works and then really hitting teams at their weak points in the second half. I was jaw-dropped at how much man we played against A&M, because after OSU I was thinking, "We've got to play more man to give our line just little bit more time to get home. We were so close on Weeden."
Although many people are disappointed in the defense I really am not. It has had some breakdowns to be sure, but it is NOT playing poorly. People have complained about the defensive line's inability to get to the QB, but context is key. In the current pass happy environment in college and pro football good QBs can all but negate a front four unless it has a transcendent player (or two). Missouri had that guy (Aldon Smith) and replaced him with a very good, if more traditional end (Madison/Burnett). Missouri also came into the season talented but raw like sushi in the secondary. It is an accomplishment to put a top 50 defense in FEI on the field with that much inexperience at key positions having faced the toughest schedule in the country according to Sagarin (#2 by FEI and #5 by RPI) through the end of October. I was banging the "Mizzou is playing some really good offenses" before learning about the schedule. I was just looking at QBs: Osweiller, Landry Jones, Weeden, Tannehill, with Hot Tub and the latest Tech robo-QB still to come. At least five of those guys figure to be NFL draftees, round 3 or better.
Once upon a time Bill C mentioned something to the effect that Mizzou fans need to learn to love the process. (I have no idea how to find that post.) So I'm trying to keep that in mind. I will be as frustrated as any other fan if Hot Tub puts up four TDs and 500 yards of total offense this week. But even if he does (and he is more than capable) that doesn't necessarily change the upside of this group. It has the makings of a potentially dominant defense. Guys have to continue developing, and we need better safety play. But, I like what I'm seeing. You should too.