September 9, 2009

Turning up the Heat

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It didn't take the world's most astute football fan to notice an improvement in the Missouri defense in week one. A unit that ranked 117th in the nation against the pass last season and gave up 28 points or more six times held Illinois to 325 total yards and single digits on the scoreboard.

According to the Tigers, there was an easy explanation: Pressure.

"(Juice Williams) got a lot of skill and he's very slippery back there in the pocket," Jacquies Smith said. "We wanted to keep him in a bind, make it tough for him, put a little pressure in his face."

Coming into the game, the Tigers had just 15 career sacks on the roster. More than half of those had come courtesy of Sean Weatherspoon. Spoon picked up one of three Tiger sacks of Williams on Saturday.

"It felt real good to go out there and actually play against some other people instead of beating up on your teammates,." Brian Coulter said. "I feel like the main thing was we were real focused. We put in a lot of extra hours last week watching film and extra conditioning at practice. We wanted to go into the game real confident and knowing what we had to do."

Coulter spent some time in the Illinois backfield, but it was his two running mates at defensive end that made the major splash. Jacquies Smith picked up a sack and redshirt freshman Aldon Smith had six tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage.

"It was real fun," Aldon Smith said. "It relieved a lot of pressure that I had."

From the looks of things, the pressure will be on opposing quarterbacks from now on.

"He's that type of player. I've been seeing it in practice, but once you get in a game you really get an opportunity to see what he can do," Weatherspoon said. "He has the longest arms on the football team. Sometimes you think a guy might outrun him, but he gets those arms on him."

"He did it in the spring, he did it during two-a-days and he did it all last week during practice," added Coulter. "It really wasn't no surprise to us. We were just happy to see him out there being comfortable and confident in what he was doing."

Smith was the driving force on the field, but it was defensive coordinator Dave Steckel that drew major praise after Saturday. Steckel took over for Matt Eberflus in the spring and called his first game from a new place for a Missouri coordinator-the sidelines.

"I think it's great having him on the sideline. He's right there," Jacquies Smith said. "He can see everything on the field, helping us out in certain situations. But also he can motivate us on the sideline, give us that passion and that fire that he always has in his voice to get us going when we're in a bad spot."

"I do something wrong, I want someone to tell me," Aldon Smith added. "And if he was farther away, maybe I wouldn't get it as quick as if he was on the sideline."

And Steckel won't hesitate to pass along either praise or criticism.

"You don't want to give up a lot of points and have to look your defensive coordinator right in the eye," Weatherspoon said.

The Tigers haven't had to do that just yet. Now, the challenge is to match the effort every Saturday.

"I think there's a lot of room for improvement," Jacquies Smith said. "There's a couple of spots, some plays we should have made that we kind of left out there on the field. I think we can be better than what we showed."

"I played all right," Aldon added. "But I still didn't play up to my potential."

"Sunday, we seen as a defense that we made a lot of mistakes. I think we made a total of 16 or 17 mistakes," Coulter agreed. "The main thing the coaches are pointing out was we did good making those mistakes, so how good could we be if we went out there and eliminated those mistakes and pretty much played a perfect game?"

Scary thought.

Nobody will cover the 2009 season like PowerMizzou.com. We will have analysis, reaction, photos and video from every single practice leading up to the season opener. To get your free trial membership going today, just click right here.



 

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