Nobody on the Missouri defense was happy after the Florida game last weekend.
Least of all, perhaps, was Darius Robinson. The veteran defensive tackle-turned end had this to say following the narrow victory:
“I just want to say, I have to be better,” Robinson said following the 31-30 win over the Gators on senior night. “This wasn’t the standard of our defense, and we have to get better.”
Robinson referenced being stiff-armed a handful of times in that game as the plays he focused on. Against Arkansas on Friday, he recorded two tackles, half a tackle for loss and three quarterback pressures in a solid bounce back effort.
The defense followed suit in righting the ship. Florida put up 500 yards of offense on the Tiger defense and averaged 9.2 yards per pass and 6.5 yards per carry last week. Mizzou put up little resistance on the interior, and the secondary had a handful of costly breakdowns.
Against Arkansas, the script was flipped. Sam Pittman’s bunch managed just 234 total yards on 7.0 yards per pass and 3.3 yards per carry. Robinson and the defense talked plenty about coming out determined to play a cleaner game on Black Friday, and they certainly did that. After a rough showing against Florida last week in terms of tackling and run fits, the defense could do no wrong against its rivals.
This was a noticeably inspired effort from the unit, with a plethora of contributors stepping up. Sidney Williams recorded a key sack in the first half on a great blitz and also racked up five tackles. Dreyden Norwood had a third down pass breakup and Nyles Gaddy recorded a sack as well. Chuck Hicks, who has continued to perform well in place of the injured Chad Bailey, picked up three tackles for loss and DT Kristian Williams tacked on 1.5 more. Even Realus George Jr. came up with four QB pressures, which is usually not his strong suit.
Hicks also forced this fumble that Jayden Jernigan pounced on for a #BigManTouchdown:
Missouri file vers sa 10ème victoire de la saison (pour la 1ère fois depuis 2014).— TBP College Football (@thebluepennant) November 24, 2023
Privé de QB KJ Jefferson sorti sur blessure, les Razorbacks d'Arkansas s'enfoncent encore un peu plus.
Yes, that is a college football account based in France. Translation:
“Missouri is heading towards its 10th victory of the season (for the first time since 2014).
Deprived of QB KJ Jefferson out with injury, the Arkansas Razorbacks are sinking a little further.”
Glad to know that the French are taking note of Missouri’s 2023 success.
That aside, perhaps the biggest star of the day was linebacker Triston Newson. The transfer from Northeast Mississippi CC flashed during spring ball and figured to fight for playing time in the fall. With Ty’Ron Hopper out for this game, this was his chance to shine.
He most certainly did. Newson recorded 15 total tackles, two TFLs, and recovered a fumble, which included a handful of impressive open-field take downs. The next closest tackler was Hicks with six.
Even with the team losing both Bailey and Hopper this offseason, the linebacker core appears to be in good hands with Newson roaming the middle. With an offseason of work as a starter, he could challenge for All-SEC honors in ‘24 thanks to how fluid he is in the open-field and his physicality at the point of attack.
Before any of us, Robinson knew that the linebacker out of Independence, Ms. would be a playmaker all the way back in March:
WATCH: @Darius6Robinson says LB Triston Newson has been a difference maker this Spring. Otherwise known as "big country" by his teammates. He's a transfer from the Northeast Tigers and could make waves on an already strong Tiger defense. @KOMUsports @Triston500 pic.twitter.com/XPunsT9StO— Joshua Shuman (@JShumanTV) March 18, 2023
Overall, this was yet another example of how incredibly versatile this team has been this season.
Against Kansas State, Memphis and Florida, the passing game led the way. Against South Carolina and Tennessee, the ground game took control behind Schrader and Cook. And when neither of those units were especially sharp for 60 minutes, the defense picked up the slack against MTSU and Arkansas.
With KJ Jefferson knocked out of this game early on, the Missouri defense was able to pin its ears back given how conservatively the Razorbacks were forced to play on offense. Add on the fact that the Hog’s O-line has been poor throughout this season, and it led to the Tigers getting home on plenty of blitzes and recording 12 tackles for loss. Blake Baker talks frequently about creating “havoc” on defense, and it’s safe to say that Arkansas backup QB Jacolby Criswell experienced plenty of it on Friday.
It is such a luxury for Eliah Drinkwitz to field a well-balanced team that can rely upon different strong points to win a football game. Each unit has had its shine, and Darius Robinson can find peace in the fact that his unit was the one that showed out and clinched a New Year’s Six bowl berth for the Tigers.