Mizzou Defense Improving, Still Not Contender-Worthy

Peter FleischerSenior Writer IOctober 21, 2009

COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 6:  Maurice Purify #16 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers is upended by Sean Weatherspoon #12 and Justin Garrett #8 of the Missouri Tigers during 2nd-half action on October 6, 2007 at Faurot Field in Columbia, Missouri.  Missouri won 41-6. (Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

The phrase, "offense wins games, but defense wins championships" almost perfectly describes the Missouri Tigers the last few seasons.

Sure, they've racked up consecutive double-digit win seasons, a couple Big 12 North titles (gee, great), and won their bowl games. But what have they actually won ?

With a team that put up points with the best of them but gave up points like a team set on "Rookie" mode on Xbox, you'd think the Tigers were throwing complete scrubs out there.

Not so.

Missouri had three players off last year's defense get drafted into the NFL, a couple more get try-outs, and an all-conference linebacker in Sean Weatherspoon.

Clearly, something had to change.

This season, Mizzou has gone with a much more simplistic approach, blitzing less, rushing the passer much more effectively from their front four, and giving up the big play rarely. Give last year's offense this years defense, and Missouri probably never loses to Oklahoma State last year, plays Texas much closer, beats KU, and you're looking at a one-loss team that wins the Big 12 North.

If only. Excuse my day dreaming.

Anyway, the results have been better with a much younger and less developed team. The Tigers rank 34 in scoring defense and are also in the top half of the nation in passing defense, an area they really struggled with despite having a second-round safety in 2008.

However, this year's offense just isn't going to put up a similar production rate. Namely, its talent thirsty. Danario Alexander is a beast, but he's probably not even as good as Jeremy Maclin. Blaine Gabbert has the physical tools but isn't healthy or experienced. And Derrick Washington and the offensive line have yet to get the running game clicking.

Yet it's still not enough. The Tigers have got to get better games from their defense if they want any chance at competing in the Big 12. Is it fair? Not at all. But sports rarely are. For years the Missouri offense has put its "D" on their back and scored enough to make up for defensive flaws. Let's hope 'Spoon and the defensive can return the favor in 2009.