posted on November 04, 2012 23:46
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There's been a common theme throughout the season.
In all of Missouri's FBS wins, and in two of Missouri's losses, the defense did the heavy lifting while the offense let down the team. The Tigers' defense, led by fourth-year defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, has been largely superb this year. There were two hiccups along the way -- a road loss to South Carolina and a home beatdown by top-ranked Alabama. But, in the other seven games, Missouri's defense allowed 18.6 points per game. That number is skewed as well, because of the 41-points surrendered to Georgia.
(The final three touchdowns in that game, however, came by way of short field after turnovers.)
Saturday's crushing 14-7 loss continued this season-long narrative. Missouri's defense dominated, although Florida's offense won't be confused for Oregon (or even Iowa State, for that matter). If a team surrenders just 14 points on the road, a team should nearly always win that game. But the offense, led by four interceptions by James Franklin, let down the defense once again this season.
"Kinda used to it now," defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said, using five short words to say more than a locker-room tirade would.
It's a shame that this has been the storyline of the season, and not only because Missouri's defense has been pretty damn good. It's a shame because, lost in the shuffle of impotent offense is the fact that Missouri's defense is continuing a trend of success.
This isn't Missouri's first year with a good defense. If you look at the numbers, this is Missouri's third consecutive year with a good defense.
There are always game-by-game anamolies (the Baylor game in 2011, Alabama this year, Nebraska in 2010), but consider this:
-- Missouri was fourth in total defense in the Big 12 in 2011 (380 yards per game) and third in the former conference in 2010 (356). This year, the Tigers are sixth in the SEC, but surrender just 327 yards per game. That ranks 22nd-nationally, easily the best mark for Missouri in Gary Pinkel's tenure.
-- Missouri was third in the Big 12 in scoring defense in 2011 (23.5 points per game) and first in 2010 (16.1 points per game). The Tigers rank ninth in the SEC in scoring defense, but are actually better than a year ago. The surrender just under 23 points per game this season.
The SEC numbers are easy to write off, because of the different offenses between the SEC and the Big 12. But that's the wrong way to look at it. The lens to view this three-year trend is through a fiery, terse, intense former Marine named Dave Steckel. Missouri used to be the place where trendy offensive coordinators took the controller to put up 40-plus points a game, first with Dave Christensen and then with David Yost, at least in his first few years.
The offense isn't that way anymore, however, and it's slanting how the season is viewed. Missouri quietly has one of the most successful defensive coordinators in the game, who has shown over a span of three years that he could turn a team that consistently struggled to stop offenses into one of the more productive and effective defenses in not one, but two leagues.
Steckel doesn't get mentioned for many head coaching jobs, although he interviewed at Texas State during the offseason. But maybe he should be. Missouri's gone from a defense who played with pillows into a defense that plays with steel and iron and metal. It's a hard hitting, fly-to-the-ball defense that isn't afraid to mix-up looks on the line of scrimmage. Just ask any one of the numerous offensive linemen who have jumped offsides because of the shifting front seven.
(Georgia's John Theus would be a good person to start with, after three false starts against Missouri.)
Missouri's offense will continue to determine the narrative of the final three games. But don't overlook the defense. It's Steckel who has shown why Missouri's football team belongs in the SEC in the first place.