Mizzou’s Logan Cheadle grinding through team’s defensive struggles

Missouri ended September with a 51-14 loss to ranked Auburn, who took advantage of the Tigers’ defensive shortcomings. Senior Logan Cheadle, the emerging leader of the cornerback unit, misread two passes that factored into Auburn’s 482-yard night. The cornerbacks finished with a season-low seven tackles.

Mizzou surrendered four touchdowns on Auburn’s first five offensive drives in an effort where Mizzou finished without a defended pass, forced fumble or an interception for the first time this season.

“We game-planned them hard,” Cheadle said. “We saw a lot of things we were expecting, but guys just didn’t make plays, me especially.”

The Auburn loss could serve as a learning curve for Cheadle, a Lee’s Summit West product who had only started one game coming into the season. The defense collectively is riding an uphill battle since defensive coordinator Demontie Cross was relieved of his coaching duties on September 10.

“I took the news not so great,” Cheadle said. “You obviously don’t want to see a man lose his job. That’s his livelihood. That’s how he supports his family. Coach Cross is a good guy. He really wanted us to be great.”

Head coach Barry Odom had been calling defensive plays since midseason last year with Logan Cheadle and eight other season opener starters as part of the returning core.

“This has absolutely zero to do with on-field performance or non-performance,” Odom said on Cross’s dismissal. “It has more to do with philosophical differences.”

Cheadle said he came into the third week with a “weird, sickening feeling” in Mizzou’s first game without Cross. The Purdue Boilermakers scored four unanswered touchdowns to start the game to hand the Tigers a 35-3 loss.

A players-only meeting took shape just days after the loss, where Cheadle and several others noticed a lack of energy in the locker room before the Purdue matchup. Cheadle felt a stronger level of support and urgency after talks with several players on both sides of the ball.

“It’s good to hear that people care,” Cheadle said. “Guys aren’t just sitting there, especially guys that maybe aren’t in the game. A lot of guys stepped up and said what needed to be said about where we want to take this season from here.”

The chemistry could be significant in helping the team overcome distractions, or, more prevalently in Cheadle’s case, follow a strong string of Mizzou cornerbacks who helped Mizzou to a 2014 SEC East championship in Cheadle’s freshman year.

Two mentors, Aarion Penton and John Gibson, were used in high-leverage situations and finished their Mizzou careers with a combined 239 total tackles and 15 interceptions. Penton and Gibson finished their senior seasons at Mizzou last year, but Odom showed confidence in Cheadle stepping up to a starting cornerback role after both departures.

“He understands the defense,” Odom said. “He’s a leader, and he does a great job in communicating and has got his eyes in the right spot every snap.”

Logan Cheadle is the only Mizzou defender with at least 10 tackles, a defended pass and an interception. However, the Tigers’ secondary placed dead last in the NCAA defense efficiency rankings among 130 Division I qualifiers after the loss to Auburn.

Partially behind this stands the fact that Mizzou’s three turnovers are tied for the fewest in the SEC.

“We got to win the turnover margin, and everything else will fall in line after that,” Cheadle said. “If something doesn’t go your way, especially with the secondary as a corner, you got to have a quick memory, erase the last play and move on to the next one.”

Logan Cheadle thinks the defense could best recover from its early season woes by trusting Odom’s defensive setup and finishing more tackles.

“I think we’ll find that out in turn within ourselves, and the players have got to step up because the coaches are doing everything they can, putting a game plan in front of us, putting us in the right position,” Cheadle said.

October presents plenty of opportunity for Logan Cheadle to spark a defensive rebound. Two of Mizzou’s next three opponents have yet to score more than 28 points in a game this season.

“I’ve told everybody it’s not time to panic,” Cheadle said. “We still have a great defense, we just got to get our things together, get the jitters away and focus in.”

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Article by Joey Schneider

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