COLUMBIA — The Missouri Tigers have presented two vastly different defenses in the first two weeks of the season.
The first allowed 7.1 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per play against a Mountain West team on the road, outdone by poor tackling and offensive mistakes that put points on the board for the opponent while the defense stood on the sideline.
The second held a Power 5 opponent to minus-five rushing yards through the first three quarters and 1.8 yards per rush in the game, not counting the 23 yards lost from three sacks, and 2.9 yards per play while forcing three first-half turnovers which allowed the offense to coast in the second half.
So which is closer to the type of defenses Missouri is likely to be this year?
"It's kind of up to us to show y'all," Missouri sophomore linebacker Nick Bolton said after Saturday's 38-7 win against West Virginia at Faurot Field. "I feel like today really was a mark of what we could be. We came in today at a very high level, everybody did their jobs, and we executed pretty well today."
Bolton played a great game Saturday, intercepting two passes. On his second, he dropped into coverage, read they eyes of Mountaineers' backup QB Jack Allison, who was locked in on Tevin Bush's out route from the snap, and cut underneath and ran it back for a touchdown.
They were Bolton's first two career interceptions, and his day drew the attention of former Missouri and Atlanta Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who was the last Missouri player with two interceptions and a pick-six in the same game before Bolton.
"Ok Nick Bolton! Now I know your name!" Weatherspoon tweeted Saturday afternoon. He also tweeted a message of support to Bolton, saying, "if you take one back to the crib next week you will be the second guy in school history to have pick 6's in back to back games! No pressure go ball young buck!! Great game today!"
Saturday was also senior safety Ronnell Perkins' first career interception.
"That was actually my first in-game pick," the St. Louis native said. "I got a lot of picks in practice, like, I get picks in practice all the time, and I be thinking to myself, 'When is my time going to come in a game?' It finally came, and it was very exciting."
It was the first time since at 45-17 win at Vanderbilt in 2017 in which the Tigers forced three turnovers without turning the ball over themselves. Missouri also had three interceptions in that game, as Adam Sparks, Terry Beckner Jr. and Brandon Lee each picked off a pass, and Lee returned his 42 yards for a score.
Missouri emphasized tackling all week in practice, and linebacker Cale Garrett said the team did live tackling during Tuesday's practice for the first time since he's been a part of the program. The Tigers take the NCAA-mandated day off on Mondays, and Tuesday practices, as the first practice of the week, are usually lighter and don't involve tackling.
It paid off, as Missouri set some high-water marks defensively for Odom's tenure. The Tigers had 13 tackles for loss against the Mountaineers, the most they've had since Week 2 of 2015 at Arkansas State, when Missouri had 15.
West Virginia was held to 171 total yards, 141 of it through the air, the lowest total by an opponent since the Tigers held Florida to 151 in 2013.
And perhaps most importantly, after giving up three passing plays of 15 or more yards and six rushes of 10 or more yards against the Cowboys, the Tigers didn't give up a run of more than nine yards, and allowed just three completions of 15 or more yards against West Virginia, one of which was on a blown coverage with about six minutes remaining and also ended the shutout.
Notes: Cornerback Jarvis Ware sprained his ankle in practice Wednesday and not fully healthy for the West Virginia game. Ware started at Wyoming the previous week. Sparks played his first real snaps in close to a year and finished with four solo tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss, a team-high. Barrett Banister caught his first-career touchdown Saturday, a 3-yard pass from Kelly Bryant. The former walk-on's score put Missouri ahead 31-0 with 23 seconds left in the first half. ... Saturday was a big day for both the men's and women's basketball program. Major men's team target Caleb Love was on his official visit and on the sideline before the game with Javon Pickett and head coach Cuonzo Martin. Women's head coach Robin Pingeton and most of her team also took in the pregame atmosphere, including newcomers Aijha Blackwell, Shug Dickson and Micah Linthacum (Jefferson City High School) as well as 2020 recruit Destiny Salary, a 4-star guard from Jonesboro, Ark.