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Mizzou’s defense is losing the ‘money downs’

A slight improvement against he run would go a long way in improving Missouri’s overall defense performance.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 04 Central Michigan at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of my favorite football analysts is a man by the name of Daniel Jeremiah. He’s a former NFL scout with a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the game of football. He was the first person I heard call third down the “money down.”

I’m sure it’s been stated elsewhere, but it’s such a wonderful way to describe such a critical moment within an individual game.

Third down is when NFL players make their money. Running backs have to get that critical yard. Wide receivers have to make the contested catch. Quarterbacks have to make the right read and then a crisp throw to the right receiver.

Oh, and every single player on the other side of the ball is trying to prevent any of those things from happening.

Third down is where the money is made. It’s a critical situation. And it’s where Mizzou is losing right now.

In Missouri’s three FBS games, the Tigers are allowing opposing offenses to convert on 56 percent of their third down conversions. That’s the worst rate of any power five team when playing FBS opponents. For context, Georgia is converting 54 percent of its third down conversions this season. So, yeah, not great.

How does it get fixed?

By improving on first and second down, in particular on the run. Allow me to explain.

Not every third down situation is created equally. Converting on third and 10 is far different than converting on third and inches. The Tigers are allowing teams to run all over them on first and second down, leading to far more manageable third down situations.

Let’s break it down a bit further. Here’s how the Tigers’ FBS opponents have performed in third down situations this season:

  • 3rd & short (1-3 yards): 3-for-4, 2-for-2, 5-for-5
  • 3rd & medium (4-6 yards): 2-for-2, 3-for-5, 4-for-7
  • 3rd & long (7+ yards): 3-for-12, 4-for-5, 1-for-4

In total, the Tigers are allowing FBS opponents to convert 91 percent of third and short opportunities, 64 percent of third and medium opportunities and just 38 percent of third and long opportunities.

How do the Tigers improve at getting off the field? They force opponents into obvious passing situations. These are the situations in which Steve Wilks can really dive into his bag of blitz packages to confusing opposing quarterbacks. The run defense suddenly becomes less of a liability because teams rarely attempt to run the football on third and long. The cornerbacks, which have actually performed quite well this season, are put into a position to succeed.

Defensive line coaches love preaching that their unit has to “earn the right to rush the passer.” Far too often this season the Tigers have been pushed around on first and second down leading to more manageable third down opportunities, or avoiding third down entirely.

Missouri’s defense isn’t good enough to win in those situations. The best way to get off the field on third down is to start winning more on first and second down.

It’s easier said than done, but if the Tigers are going to get this defense to a respectable level, it all starts on the money down.