COLUMBIA, Mo. • If there’s a game Missouri’s defense can afford to lose a linebacker, it figures to be Saturday’s visit to Indiana, where basketball is still king but football is played on a permanent fast-break.
The Tigers (2-0) will probably play with an extra defensive back and only two linebackers against the Hoosiers’ spread formations. So, maybe losing middle linebacker Andrew Wilson for the first half Saturday isn’t all that bad.
Michael Scherer’s not buying that theory.
“There’s nobody we can put in and say, ‘It’s OK, we’ve got this guy,’” the redshirt freshman linebacker said. “But I’m going to do my best to step in and do what I can to make sure there’s no dramatic drop-off.
“But missing Andrew,” he added, “he’s a captain, he’s probably the best player on our defense. It’s still a blow no matter what way you look at it.”
Wilson, the team’s leading tackler each of the last two seasons, will serve his NCAA-mandated first-half suspension at Indiana (2-1), the result of the targeting penalty he drew on the first possession of the third quarter against Toledo on Sept. 7. Wilson barreled into Toledo’s Bernard Reedy after an incomplete pass over the middle, striking the receiver above the shoulders with his forearm.
A replay review upheld the call on the field, leading to Wilson’s automatic ejection, plus a first-half suspension for the next game. Wilson will be allowed to enter Saturday’s game in the third quarter.
With Wilson out of action for the first half, Scherer, the former two-way standout at MICDS, is listed as Mizzou’s starting middle linebacker. That doesn’t guarantee Scherer will make his first career college start in Bloomington, Ind.
Against Indiana’s no-huddle spread attack, the Tigers will probably rely on their nickel package, which replaces a linebacker with a third safety, Ian Simon. During the team’s two bye-week practices Saturday and Sunday, Donovan Bonner and Kentrell Brothers were the first-team nickel linebackers, Scherer said. Scherer and Darvin Ruise were the second-team linebackers. All four are expected to rotate in the first half.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Wilson will alternate with the first and second units during practice this week.
Meeting with reporters for the first time since earning Mizzou’s first targeting penalty of the season, Wilson said he was frustrated initially but has since “calmed down a bit.”
“I’ve thought a lot about it, and it’s better than being injured,” said Wilson, who leads Mizzou with 225 career tackles. “I haven’t missed a lot of games, so I’m thankful for that. It’s going to be tough, but it’s something I’ve got to deal with.”
The targeting rule has been in place since 2008 and carries a 15-yard penalty — it’s illegal to target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder — but this year the NCAA rules committee added the automatic ejection. Offenders in the second half, like Wilson, are also suspended for the first half of his team’s next game.
For Pinkel, Wilson’s penalty gave the Tigers a tangible teaching tool for a penalty the coaching staff emphasized significantly during preseason camp.
“There certainly was no vengeance on his part,” Pinkel said. “He’s never had that kind of penalty before even though the rule existed. There’s lessons to learn there. You’ve got to go low. The (receiver) was even coming down at an angle at him, but bottom line there’s lessons for all of us because it does hurt the team when one of your best players can’t play the first half.”
“The main things are aiming toward the hips and making sure you wrap up,” Scherer said. “Most guys who are getting kicked out don’t make an attempt to wrap up. That makes it a little easier to throw somebody out or throw a flag on them. If you tackle the way you’re supposed to tackle and tackle the way you’re taught, I don’t think it’ll be a problem at all.”
Against the Hoosiers, the short-handed Tigers should have plenty of chances to make tackles in open space. Third-year coach Kevin Wilson has his spread offense humming through three weeks — albeit against the likes of Indiana State, Navy and Bowling Green — as the Hoosiers are scoring 50.0 points a game.
Running the same fast-tempo system he ran as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator from 2002-2010, Wilson has the Hoosiers ranked among the country’s top dozen offenses in passing yards per game (339.0, 11th), passing yards per attempt (10.3, 12th), passing touchdowns (12, third) and passing efficiency (185.9, 11th). Only Oregon has more 30-yard plays from scrimmage than Indiana’s 14, while the Hoosiers lead the country in 20-yard passes with 20.
The Hoosiers are familiar with the new targeting penalty: The first player ejected under the revised rule was Indiana State defensive back Carlos Aviles, who delivered a crushing helmet-to-helmet hit on Indiana punt returner Shane Wynn in the Aug. 29 season opener.
Wilson’s illegal hit left more room for interpretation, but the Tigers can’t say they haven’t been warned.
“It’s just part of the game now,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to bring the hits lower. It’s something I’ve got to work on.”