The 2021 Missouri Tigers Defense has received a lot criticism for their poor performance as a unit. They’ve been amongst the worst teams in the FBS in total defense and run defense for much of the year, but all that changed this weekend.
In desperate need of a a win to get one game closer to bowl eligibility, it was the Missouri defense that carried the Tigers to a victory on Saturday and rewrote the script on what had been a much-maligned season.
Last week, Missouri Head Coach Eli Drinkwitz thought the Tigers made improvements in stopping the run against Georgia, but this week they put it all together to hold the South Carolina Gamecocks to just 1.6 yards per rush. In their previous game, the Gamecocks ran for 284 yards on 6.8 yards per carry.
“I think our linebackers are playing downhill and fitting gaps really well,” Missouri Head Coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “I think we’re being more structurally sound with how we play the run game and keeping contain and leverage and I think we’re tackling better.”
However, the Tigers weren’t just stopping the run; they were doing it all on defense. They forced turnovers, they scored on D like defensive coordinator Steve Wilks preached all offseason, and they rushed the passer with reckless abandon.
“It was unbelievable. They held their side of the ball down. Every time I looked up, the quarterback was scrambling one way or the other,” Drinkwitz said. “[I’m] Really proud of the way they performed.”
Trajan Jeffcoat, similarly to his head coach, pointed to the constant Missouri presence in the Gamecocks’ backfield as the key to the defensive turnaround this week. “All of us getting after the quarterback, getting the hurries, getting the tackles for loss. It definitely put us in a great position as a defense,” Jeffcoat explained. As a team, the Tigers combined for 13 QB pressures in the game.
Leading the way for the Missouri defense last night was undoubtedly DE Isaiah McGuire. The Tulsa native tallied 6 tackles, 2 TFLs, 2 QB hurries, a forced fumble that he recovered, and a sack. He was everywhere for the Tigers and will surely be in the Gamecocks’ nightmares for the next week. However, even with all the stats, Drinkwitz thinks the most impressive thing McGuire contributed to the Tigers defensive effort was his incredible effort to force a fumble and recover it in one move.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve seen somebody make a tackle and a fumble on the same play. It’s pretty impressive,” Drinkwitz said. “I know he had pressure. I don’t know how many sacks he had. He’s been our most consistent defensive lineman. He talked about on Monday wanting to play fast this week. That’s what showed up.”
Not only did McGuire play fast, but everyone on the Missouri defense did. With the Tigers one win away from bowl eligibility, they’ll be looking for the defense to continue the strong play from this weekend, and after watching just how dominant they’re capable of being this weekend, who says they can’t?