Though the Missouri Tigers lost 31-13 to South Carolina on Saturday, the defense actually looked much better than it did in Week 1, when Mizzou gave up 43 points to FCS opponent Missouri State.
Still, it wasn’t good enough for second-year defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross to keep his job, as he was relieved of his duties on Sunday.
Now, the Tigers will try to quickly regroup on that side of the ball as they prepare to host the Purdue Boilermakers this weekend.
Head coach Barry Odom actually took over defensive play-calling duties from Cross midway through last season, but with Cross no longer on the staff, there are no more excuses for the second-year head coach.
Going up against Purdue’s surprisingly competent offense under first-year coach Jeff Brohm won’t be easy, but Odom’s unit needs to take another step forward if the Tigers are going to be competitive this season. Another putrid effort on that side of the ball and Odom may start to be involved in more and more hot-seat rumors.
Here are three areas the Tigers can try to improve upon this weekend in order to take another step in the right direction vs. Purdue:
Eliminate the big plays
Missouri State torched Mizzou on deep passes and long runs where the back wasn’t even touched as he made his way to the end zone, begging the question — where were the safeties?
With the struggles the Tigers have had on defense in the past couple of seasons, you’d think there would consistently be a safety whose only job was to not let anyone get behind him.
The secondary took a big step forward against South Carolina, but there’s still a long way to go if this team is going to make a run at six wins and a bowl berth.
Bend, don’t break
The Tigers have allowed 37 points per game through two weeks, which easily leads the SEC (and is tied for the 113th-worst average in the country). Moving forward, the Mizzou defense needs to tighten up in the red zone.
It’s unreasonable to expect all their defensive woes to be fixed overnight, but at the very least, the Tigers need to focus on playing better defense when there’s less field to defend.
Simply by holding some more drives to field goals instead of allowing touchdowns, the Mizzou defense will give the offense a chance to outscore opponents.
The Boilermakers are going to put up some yardage against the Tigers (as will nearly every other opponent), but if they can keep their opponents out of the end zone more often than not, QB Drew Lock and company should be able to put up enough points to help Mizzou win.
Let the linemen loose
One of Cross’s big philosophy changes heading into last season was to add more gap responsibilities for the defensive linemen, preventing them from freely rushing the passer.
When Odom took over and changed that, guys like DEs Charles Harris and Marcell Frazier thrived. As the Tigers prepare for Purdue this weekend, though, letting the defensive linemen rush freely should be an even bigger point of emphasis.
After recording four sacks against Missouri State, the Tigers only had one against the Gamecocks. In order to win games moving forward, the linemen — the biggest strength of the defense — are going to have to make opposing quarterbacks more uncomfortable.