Markus Golden remembers feeling something on his lower leg. It was, he said, the Arkansas State running back diving to cut block him.
He missed. And then Golden, Missouri’s junior defensive end, forced what was his second game-changing play this season. Third-and-goal from the MU 1-yard line, Golden pressured ASU quarterback Adam Kennedy enough to lead to a completion short of the goal line.
With no timeout, the first half expired. ASU had, at one point, first-and-goal from the 2.
"That whole stand down there was pretty remarkable," MU Coach Gary Pinkel said after Missouri’s 41-19 win over Arkansas State last night at Faurot Field. [...]
"It proved guts," defensive end Kony Ealy said of the stand. "This defense isn’t here for nothing. We’re here to stand."
The Red Wolves drove inside Missouri's 30-yard line six times, but scored one touchdown and four field goals. In the end, that made the difference.
"We toughen up down there," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "You might say, well, toughen up earlier. Maybe we should."
"It's all about making a stand, man," defensive end Kony Ealy said. "We have adverse situations like that, but it depends on how hard you're willing to go to make a change, and that's what we did."
In four games this season, opposing teams entered Missouri's 30-yard line 18 times. In those situations, Missouri surrendered seven touchdowns and seven field goals. Opponents missed one field goal, allowed time to expire once and forced two turnovers.
Missouri ended the first-half with a goal-line stand, stopping Arkansas State from scoring from one yard out. Time expired after Kennedy's desperation pass to avoid a sack ended with a 22-yard loss.
"Those last plays at the end were incredible," Pinkel said.
You can never really tell whether it's self-deprecation or sudden realization, but I've always loved Gary Pinkel's random digs at himself and his team. (They're a lot more frequent after wins.) Yes, it would certainly be preferable if Mizzou were able to "toughen up earlier" and not wait until the opponent crosses inside the Mizzou 30 to make a big play. The Tigers did just that late in the game, of course. But as with Toledo, they let a team dink and dunk its way down the field and show its cards before dialing up a significant amount of pressure and aggressiveness near the goal line. It worked in both games, and it worked for a good portion of last season, too.
As I mentioned when previewing the season in August, this schedule takes shape in an unusual way. All four non-conference opponents run variations of a spread offense, and as we saw in the Big 12, this bend-don't-break style is almost preferable against such attacks. But next week's opponent, Vanderbilt, does not. Neither does Georgia. Neither does Florida. South Carolina will spread you out occasionally, but not really. Mizzou's next four opponents in no way attempt to spread you out with regularity like Murray State, Toledo, Indiana, and Arkansas State, but Mizzou's final four opponents (Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Texas A&M) do.
What that means is, we really don't have a feel for how well Mizzou will withstand the offensive attacks of its upcoming opponents. We know that these teams won't throw as many bubble screens or as many short passes. We know that these teams will attempt to physically dominate the Tigers more than the first four opponents did. And we don't know how Mizzou will match up.
Thus far, the defensive line has looked as good as, or better than, I hoped it would this season. And lord knows that players like Andrew Wilson like the flow-to-the-ball-and-hit-hard style that will accompany games against Vanderbilt, Florida, etc. But while the talk will be about the yards Mizzou gave up to ASU and Toledo in particular, those performances really don't have much predictive power, good or bad, moving forward. All we know is, when the defense had to make a stand in non-conference play, it did virtually every time. Hopefully that continues, huh?