Columbia, Mo. Its standout quarterback can take over games, but Missouri is trying to prove it can play pretty well on the other side of the ball, too.
The Tigers' defense has allowed 44 points through three games, the second-fewest in the Big 12 Conference. A 48-0 victory over Ball State on Sept. 18 showed how far Missouri (2-1) has come, but Colorado (3-0), which visits today to open conference play, presents quite a challenge.
Coach Gary Pinkel believes the MU defense is still evolving.
"The difference between last year's team winning eight games and the year before (a 5-7 record) was our defense," Pinkel said. "Brad Smith had the same numbers as he did before. I think we have better players at a lot of different spots."
That depth took a hit Monday when the team suspended starting linebacker David Richard after he was arrested for alleged marijuana possession. Marcus Bacon will make his first career start today in Richard's place.
Bacon, a sophomore, has four tackles this season, including one for a loss. He will play an important role in Missouri's attempts to slow down Colorado tailback Bobby Purify, whose average of 118 rushing yards per game ranks 14th in the nation.
"Marcus has been playing quite a bit there," Pinkel said. "He's very competitive. I'm sure he's excited about the opportunity. It's certainly going to be a task. We're playing a really good running back, without question one of the best running backs in the Big 12."
Henry Sweat, who had been backing up Dedrick Harrington at middle linebacker, will back up Bacon instead. Sweat, a senior, can play all three linebacker positions and brings experience to the group.
"You always try to prepare your most experienced guys to be able to play several spots," Pinkel said. "He has studied for that and prepared for that. That says an awful lot about him, the kind of athlete he is and his retention level and how smart he is."
Sweat has 14 tackles, including three for loss, and one sack. He said he has seen the defense steadily improve through the non-conference schedule.
"We're progressing," Sweat said. "We have a lot of young guys going through the learning progress, but I think that's the way it's going to be with anybody learning the position. We're definitely getting better."
Cornerback Marcus King made his first start against Ball State and topped the depth chart this week, surpassing A.J. Kincade. He will start opposite Shirdonya Mitchell against the Buffaloes.