Senior Writer

Weekend Watch List: Missouri discovers defense in time for OU


Defensive end Brad Madison could be forced to the sidelines this week. That is a significant development in the history of Missouri's defense.

The current unit is second nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 10.8 points per game. It has shut out Colorado, only the program's second zero since 2004. It also has a legacy that it doesn't want to admit, or remember. For the past 25 years or so, the words "Missouri" and "defense" found their way into sentences by accident. They were strangers bumping into each other in a crowded bar.

"Watch it buddy!"

"What's your problem?"

The confrontation would eventually end up in a slap fight with a lot of hair pulling because it was ... the Missouri defense. But something has changed heading into the school's biggest home game in forever. It's homecoming. GameDay is in town. Faurot Field -- named after legendary coach Don Faurot, who was known to play a little D -- will be jacked. Something has changed, and there is no clear reason why. Suddenly, Missouri's defense is one of the best units in the country. It hasn't been a fluke. Five times in six games the defense has allowed 13 points or fewer. Texas A&M felt its wrath last week. Jerrod Johnson was sacked seven times.

The D is so good that Madison, and his team-leading four sacks (fourth in the Big 12), may be sitting when No. 3 Oklahoma comes to town. That's because starter Aldon Smith is ready to assume his regular spot after recovering from -- but still projected to play with -- a broken fibula. Yes, Mizzou's defense is suddenly good and deep. It was the team's biggest weakness headed into Gary Pinkel's 10th season. Nebraska was the prohibitive Big 12 North favorite. Now all that may have flipped.

Mizzou (6-0) could win the North and beyond. As we all know, defense is football's ultimate trump card. It travels well, it works in crappy weather, and it makes up for a bad day by the offense. Mizzou has a couple of senior corners -- Kevin Rutland and Carl Gettis -- who are talented enough to allow defensive coordinator Dave Steckel to play press-man coverage and unleash a combination of stunts and blitzes. What none of them know is the Mizzou defense's shameful legacy in recent decades.

 Kansas' Tony Sands set a then-NCAA single-game rushing record in 1991 against Missouri with 396 yards.

 At halftime of the infamous "Norman Conquest" (77-0) in 1986 at Oklahoma, former Sooners assistant Jim Donnan recalls walking down from the press box behind a couple of Missouri defensive assistants. "I think we'll be all right if we widen the ends a little bit," Donnan remembers one saying. That's not the most laughable thing. After the worst loss in school history, Missouri coach Woody Widenhofer said, "There was no attempt at all to run up the score."

 There were other humiliating losses -- 73-0 to Texas A&M (1993), 66-0 to Kansas State (1999) 62-9 to Clemson (2000). Even during Missouri's 12-win season in 2007, it finished 96th in pass defense.

The campus is busting this week. Missouri hasn't been 7-0 since 1960, but is OU in its head? In that epic 2007 season, the Tigers lost only to Oklahoma, twice, coming within a half of going to the BCS title game. The Tigers haven't beaten the Sooners since 1998, and have lost 19 of the past 20.

The only certainty seems to be that with this defense, at least it won't be embarrassing for Missouri this time. Will it?

Scoping the Nation

Don't take it from WWL: Ask Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis if he is surprised his Sooners are No. 1 (in the BCS).

"I think they got it totally wrong," Lewis said this week on The Jim Rome Show. "We haven't put it all the pieces together. Put Boise up there. Put Oregon up there."

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WWL likes the candor and agrees that it was kind of odd that OU went from sixth in the polls to the top of the BCS after beating ... Iowa State. The Sooners aren't the types to come from behind in the polls. They dominate. There is that national championship and those six Big 12 titles under Stoops. For the 20th time, Oklahoma is No. 1 in the BCS. Win or lose Saturday against Missouri, OU will likely remain in the BCS standings for a 69th week, third all time. That means in the 12-year history of the system, OU has been in the standings approximately 35 percent of the time. Impressive.

Close wins against Utah State, Air Force and Cincinnati were intertwined with a blowout of Florida State. Maybe the 52-0 win over Iowa State last week proved that the Sooners are ready to take off. Mizzou hasn't faced the likes of Ryan Broyles (15 catches last week against Iowa State) or quarterback Landry Jones (top 10 in passing yards per game). Lewis might be referring to his own defense that is No. 71 overall but is gradually getting plays from its stars. Defensive ends Frank Alexander (three) and Jeremy Beal (six) lead the Sooners in sacks.

The difference? Oklahoma is taking it personally that it is Missouri's homecoming opponent. Directional schools are usually brought in for an easy beat down.

"It's just more fire," Lewis said.

Destiny's darlings: Lost in the euphoria of Auburn' 7-0 start is the likelihood that the Tigers control their own destiny for the national championship game. At least that's what's Jerry Palm is selling.

That's right, go 13-0 and Auburn would have enough BCS juice to play for the national championship game, according to the Palm. Never mind that the Tigers are No. 4 this week headed into the LSU game. OK, so there's a long way to go, but that's exactly the way it seemed two years ago when Gene Chizik was a questionable hire and Nick Saban was getting ready to take over the SEC. Now Chizik is undefeated, and he has the best player in the game.

LSU against all odds: Does it matter that Les Miles can't coach up a quarterback to save his life (or job)? No, because in this game the best player on the field might not be Cam Newton. Watch Drake Nevis, the latest in a long line of great LSU defensive tackles. He's shot up NFL draft boards and into opponents' backfields with 11.5 tackles for loss.

SEC Least: The SEC elitists need to shut their yaps this week. It's half a league this year. South Carolina still leads the SEC East with a 2-2 conference record, followed by Florida and Georgia at 2-3. Those are numbers we are not used to this early in the season in a division that used to be the toughest in football. The quality of ball is so low in that Vanderbilt could beat South Carolina on Saturday and be on top of the East. Alone. All six teams are still alive in the Least, including Tennessee (0-3 and hosting Alabama), which is the only SEC team without a league win.

It's on you, Hawks: It would be so Wisconsin of Wisconsin if it lost at Iowa, the week after beating No. 1 Ohio State. And it would be no disgrace. There is a rising tide of Hawkeyeness that believes Iowa is the best team in the Big Ten. It has a hyphen weapon at receiver in Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. It has Ricky Stanzi 1) upright and 2) among the top three in pass efficiency. The defensive front is still one of the best in the country. It is one bad half at Arizona away from being among the title contenders. The loss still counts, but the Hawks remain on a roll. If they can't beat a pair of top 10 teams at home the next two weeks (No. 10 Wisconsin, No. 8 Michigan State), then they don't deserve it.

The Real World, Lincoln: You screw up at work, you get yelled at -- by the boss, co-workers, it doesn't matter. You screwed up. Own it. Nebraska receiver Niles Paul didn't this week, complaining about being heckled by angry Husker fans for dropping a touchdown pass in the Texas game. Niles, buddy, this is the way it is in the real world. You're paid -- well, get a scholarship -- to catch passes. You and a couple of teammates dropped passes that could've led to a win over the 'Horns.

Watch and learn this week at Oklahoma State, Niles. Cowboys receiver Justin Blackmon would be glad to offer pointers, except he is trying to beat your butt. The nation's No. 1 receiver (160 yards per game) faces the nation's No. 1 pass efficiency defense. Call it Hands vs. Huskers.

The quote of the week from the Ol' Turkey Inseminator

"Don't you get embarrassed when you get shut out? I do. I don't like to get shut out of nothing -- horseshoes, ping-pong, whatever." -- Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell after losing to Georgia last week 43-0.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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