COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's defense pretty much held up its end of the bargain last week. If there's been any griping about the lack of production on the other side of the ball heading into the perceived mismatch against top-ranked Alabama, the Tigers have kept it to themselves.
Outspoken defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said no one's getting frustrated, and no one's pointing fingers.
"Nothing too dramatic. Ain't no wedges getting built," Richardson said. "It ain't, 'Are we fighting, we just enemies for the rest of our lives?' No, it's nothing like that at all."
After Missouri limited Vanderbilt to 295 yards, end Brad Madison said the defense hasn't done its job if the opponent ends up with more points.
"We've got to stop the run," Madison said. "Alabama's going to pound the ball on us."
In the face of adversity, cornerback Kip Edwards remained very optimistic.
"We can still go 9-3. I don't see what the fuss is about," Edwards said. "We can still win the East. You never know."
Missouri (3-3, 0-3 SEC) dropped to .500 and its long-anticipated debut season in the SEC has produced mostly groans, especially after a 19-15 upset at home by lightly regarded Vanderbilt last week. The Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0) are three-touchdown favorites to send another Faurot Field sellout crowd home disappointed on Saturday.
The Tigers' no-huddle, spread offense is averaging just 25 points, the school's lowest since 2004. They're averaging less than 16 points the last three games, getting held to just 10 in the first SEC road game at South Carolina.
Even the opener, a 62-10 romp over Southeastern Louisiana, is a bit deceptive because there were two punt returns for touchdown by Marcus Murphy, plus an interception return and fumble return for scores.
Missouri is just 88th in the nation in time of possession at 28 minutes and 21 seconds, putting the burden on a defense that's sagged at the end of the half and end of the game.
It's rare during the Gary Pinkel years for the defense to carry such responsibility. But that's just the way it is right now, and all segments are far from perfect.
"It's just us playing for each other," Edwards said. "That's really what it all boils down to. You can't just blame the offense, you can't just blame the defense, you can't just blame the special teams. You have to blame us as a whole. We haven't played four quarters of football yet."
Production has slid due injuries at quarterback and on the line for an offense that's not so high-powered, ranked just 95th in the nation. Quarterback James Franklin will be sidelined several weeks with a sprained left knee, and the banged-up line includes the first freshman to start under Pinkel, a redshirt freshman, a former walk-on and a sixth-year senior tackle, Elvis Fisher, playing hurt.
"They've had some problems and issues this year with some very good players being injured," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "Regardless of those circumstances and situations, I think they have some very good players who are filling in and are very capable."
Backup quarterback Corbin Berkstresser was just 9 for 30 for 189 yards and a touchdown last week in relief of Franklin.
"He's not the first quarterback who's ever had a tough day," Pinkel said. "One thing we're not going to do, we don't make any drastic changes. That would be kind of the worst thing to do."
Opponents are averaging 22.8 points and 326.7 yards against Missouri, which ranks near the middle of the SEC in both categories. The defense has been vulnerable when overworked, allowing 110 points in the second and fourth quarters and just 27 in the first and third quarters.
This week the competition figures to be a lot stiffer. Offensive expectations can't be high considering Alabama is allowing just seven points per game and the defense will be facing a unit that's perfect 22 for 22 inside the 20, 16 of them touchdowns.
"We've got to have better continuity," Pinkel said. "I think maybe kids might press a little bit. I think that might happen. I think that's natural because they want to do well."
The bottom line: Right now, low-scoring games are probably Missouri's only chance at success.
"We've just got to work through it," Pinkel said. "I don't have anything magical here."