Missouri has put a huge emphasis on forcing turnovers this season.
From hiring someone who’s supposed to be a turnover guru in David Gibbs to handing out cards reading “TAKEAWAYS = VICTORY!!” throughout Week 2 before the West Virginia game, it’s become pretty clear how important turnovers are for this team’s success.
“I talk about it all the time, because it’s the No. 1 indicator for us to win a game,” head coach Barry Odom said. “The turnover margins got to be in our favor, and then if you combine winning the turnover margin and scoring twice when the offense is not on the field... if I could sign up for that every week I’d take it.”
That’s why defensive coordinator Ryan Walters preached turnovers after the Week 1 loss to Wyoming, when the Tigers produced zero while the Cowboys recorded three. In Weeks 2 and 3, Missouri ended up on the right side of the turnover battle and got pick-sixes both games.
The Tigers then continued that streak Saturday, as safety Ronnell Perkins picked off South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski in the end zone and took it the house for a 100-yard interception return, the longest in program history, with about five minutes to play in the third quarter.
“You win the turnover margin, you win the game,” Perkins said. “The last three weeks we won the turnover margin and we’re 3-0.”
That came just two quarters after another defensive touchdown opened Missouri’s scoring in the first.
A Hilinski pass was tipped right back to him and it looked like he threw the ball straight into the ground, which the referees originally ruled to be a second forward pass. Linebacker Cale Garrett was the only player smart enough to go recover the ball, which was sitting untouched in the end zone. After the officials reviewed the play, they ruled that Hilinksi actually fumbled the ball, which meant Garrett’s recovery was for a touchdown.
“Everybody knows about Cale’s football IQ,” linebacker Nick Bolton said. “People talked about it last year. I witness it firsthand now, but in practice he does the same thing. So when he does something in practice it translates to the field.”
Missouri managed to produce two defensive scores, one for 100 yards and one for 0 yards. It’s not every day that a team accomplishes that feat, but when it happens, that team can pretty much count on securing the win.
And let’s not forget to mention defensive tackle Akial Byers, who forced and recovered a fumble by Rico Dowdle during the drive following Perkins’ pick-six.
“That’s huge for the program. Any time we can do that, it’s big for momentum,” Garrett said. “Something we definitely want to continue doing, being opportunistic and riding on the momentum that we have.”
Sometimes it’s a little crazy to see how a few changes can completely turn around a team’s fortunes.
The outlook on Missouri’s season looked pretty dim coming into the season thanks to the postseason ban handed down by the NCAA, and things weren’t looking any better after the shocker against Wyoming.
Some fans wanted give up on the season. Some fans wanted to run Odom out of town.
In some fans’ minds, major changes needed to be made.
In reality, it just took a little more focus on the turnover battle to turn the season back around in the Tigers’ favor.
“Probably as dominating of a performance defensively that I’ve been around, at least in some time,” Odom said.