Missouri defensive lineman Mekhi Wingo saw North Texas quarterback Austin Aune roll out early in the fourth quarter when teammate Trajan Jeffcoat got his hand on the ball.
The deflection ended up in Wingo’s hands, and the freshman took the ball 40 yards to the house for the Tigers’ first defensive touchdown of the season.
Wingo, who described himself as a “running back at heart,” said the team clicked on the play, and that celebrating the moment with his teammates was made even sweeter by the fact that the play was a team effort.
“I was just hoping he didn’t get tired so I didn’t have to go out there,” running back Tyler Badie joked after the game. “I was hoping he scored, and he did that. I came up to him after and I congratulated him. I just told him, ‘I thought you was gonna be tired and go out of bounds.’”
Missouri’s defense showed marked improvement against North Texas after a pummeling by Southeastern Conference opponent Tennessee in Week 5. However, there still are obvious areas that need work; the Tigers gave up 28 points to the Eagles in the second half.
“We were playing off each other more this week, not just playing for ourself,” Wingo said. “I’d say over the past few days the defense, we just got closer. We been bonding more. We just knew we had to figure it out, and hopefully this is a step in the right direction.”
Change was expected after Missouri fired defensive line coach Jethro Franklin last Sunday. Franklin was hired in January. In his five games in the position, the MU defense allowed 1,543 total rushing yards, an average of 306.8, and 17 ground touchdowns. Those stats put the Tigers last in the FBS.
Al Davis was promoted from defensive analyst to replace Franklin.
MU recorded its second-most sacks of the season, finishing the game with three for 18 yards. The Tigers did not have any through the first half, but earned a back-to-back pair in the third quarter. Trajan Jeffcoat landed one for a loss of 9 yards, and Isaiah McGuire recorded the second for a loss of 6. Johnny Walker Jr. was credited with the third sack.
The negative-yardage plays were an aspect of the defense’s performance that Drinkwitz highlighted following the game. Missouri had 10 tackles for loss.
“I know we’ve been struggling stopping the run a little bit, and when you get negative plays on first and second down, it forces a team to pass on third,” Wingo said. “When you know a team is gonna pass, it makes it a lot easier for the DBs, linebackers and the D-line.”
Missouri performed its best against the run since the season opener against Central Michigan, allowing fewer than 200 rushing yards from the Eagles. Running back DeAndre Torrey had the most carries for UNT, but only averaged 3.8 yards.
Through the air in the second half, though, North Texas managed to rack up yards. Aune threw for 264 of his 305 yards after halftime and had four touchdown passes in the second 30 minutes. His longest pass, a 77-yarder to Damon Ward Jr., was the last scoring play of the game and happened with under five minutes to go.
But Wingo’s interception wasn’t the only one. Defensive back Kris Abrams-Draine picked off Aune early at the UNT 26-yard line. The play was originally ruled an incomplete pass, but was overturned upon review.
“First thing I want to know is how come every time he picks the ball off we always have to have a replay tell us,” Drinkwitz said. “I mean holy cow, that’s twice now.”
Abrams-Draine, who Wingo refers to as “Jalen Ramsey,” wasn’t as positive about the interception as he’s been at other times. The sophomore also grabbed an interception against Southeast Missouri State and has four pass breakups on the season.
“I really didn’t know I had that one,” Abrams-Draine said. “I just knew I caught it, but I didn’t know I was in.”
Defensive back Martez Manuel led Missouri with six total tackles, all solo. ALinebacker Devin Nicholson had two solo and four assisted, and linebacker Chad Bailey had two solo and three assisted.