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It's early, but signs point to another top-20 Missouri defense

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Arkansas State averaged only 2.9 yards per play and 2.6 yards per carry against a Missouri defense that was frequently disadvantaged and tired out by the Tigers' offensive failures.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

We obviously don't know much about how Arkansas State's offense will finish the next 10-11 games in 2015, so it's going to be difficult to draw any lasting conclusions about the defensive effort we saw in Jonesboro on Saturday night.

But any potential conclusions are pretty good ones.

Over the last three seasons, Missouri has ranked 20th, 22nd, and 15th in Def. S&P+. The bar has been set pretty high, though it was fair to worry about the amount of turnover the Tigers have had to deal with heading into this season. Mizzou lost coordinator Dave Steckel and two more NFL defensive ends (Markus Golden and Shane Ray), not to mention safety valve extraordinaire Braylon Webb and three of last year's top four tackles (Lucas Vincent and Matt Hoch graduated, and Harold Brantley is out for the season with injury).

It was fair to assume that, even if the Tigers eventually found a pretty high level of play with Barry Odom and a crazy-young defensive line, there might be growing pains at the beginning of the season.

Still waiting for those growing pains. Sure, there was an inefficient drive against SEMO, and yeah, Arkansas State found some intermittent success in the first half. But a lot of ASU's success was due to field position and a defense that briefly lost its legs because of quick offensive failures. The full-game performance was magnificent.

Missouri allowed just 217 yards, 2.9 per play against an Arkansas State offense that ranked 53rd in Off. S&P+ last year. We might not know where ASU will rank this year, but using a big range, we can compare this performance to that of other Mizzou defenses against similar offenses.

Here are all of Missouri's performances against offenses ranked between 40th and 85th in Off. S&P+ from 2012-14:

Year Offense Off. S&P+ Rk Yards Yards/play Points
2014 Tennessee 40 279 4.2 21
2013 Ole Miss 43 378 5.3 10
2014 Minnesota 44 373 5.6 17
2012 Arizona State 45 296 4.6 20
2013 Tennessee 49 334 5.1 3
2013 Arkansas State 69 435 4.9 19
2014 Florida 72 283 3.6 13
2014 Kentucky 74 258 3.6 10
2014 Indiana 75 493 5.9 31
2013 Kentucky 77 369 4.7 17
2013 Florida 83 151 2.5 17
2012 Vanderbilt 85 295 4.3 19
AVERAGE 61 320 4.5 16
2015 Arkansas State ? 217 2.9 20

ASU's point total ended up higher than the average of those other games, but three of the Red Wolves' scoring drives began in Mizzou territory -- their first touchdown drive began at the MU 7 (and it took an amazing third-down catch by Tres Houston to score the TD), and they were forced to settle for field goals on drives that began at the 28 and 41. Only once all game did ASU drive more than 40 yards.

Considering the youth involved, and considering how many different players made plays in the front seven, this season's early defensive output is incredibly encouraging.

That's good since ... well ... there's really nothing encouraging you can say about the offense.


The Trib: MU defense helps out struggling offense in 2nd half of 27-20 win over Arkansas State

The Tigers (2-0) allowed the Red Wolves (0-2) only 37 yards on 29 plays in the second half, with five of their eight drives ending in punts and two more in Kentrell Brothers interceptions.

Arkansas State’s only score in the second half came on a 40-yard Drew White field goal after Rocky Hayes intercepted Maty Mauk to set the Red Wolves up at the Missouri 28-yard line.

The Tigers’ defense surrendered 5 yards on that drive. Over two drives in the third quarter, Walter Brady, Marcell Frazier and Harris all notched big losses on Arkansas State series that covered minus-21 yards in six plays.

The Trib (David Morrison): Defense comes up big for MU in 2nd half of 27-20 win over Arkansas State
The Trib (David Morrison): Game Rewind: Missouri 27, Arkansas State 20

The Ball is Mine: Brothers has just been ridiculous this season. All his tackles would be enough to be impressive, then he goes and does something like this. On a 1st-and-10 from the 37, Tabary threw a stick route to Paschal, and Brothers was right there with him. Brothers said the Red Wolves had been running the play intermittently all night, so he knew it was coming. He positioned himself, and got his hands on the ball, but so did Paschal. The wideout wasn't winning this battle. Brothers, to paraphrase esteemed colleague and boss Joe Walljasper, stole Paschal's lunch and wrenched the ball away, setting up the Tigers at the Arkansas State 39. He's just playing at another level right now. He's the perfect combination of preparation, intelligence and skill. The color commentator called him an "All-American." Not yet. But soon, perhaps.

PowerMizzou.com - Defense does it again
PowerMizzou: ***THE POST SCRIPT: ARKANSAS STATE***

17. A mea culpa on Arkansas State’s second drive of the third quarter, backed up close to their end zone. The defensive line was Nate Howard, Terry Beckner Jr., Josh Moore and Walter Brady. I made a comment in the press box that was basically, ‘Huh. Interesting choice for this situation, with three true freshmen and one RS freshman.'

Of course, that line got major pressure each play, including a hell of a jump and move by Brady to drop a ball-carrier at the one, a play that was close to being a safety.

Three and out, and I got to feel like an idiot, so all in all, a good series for the young line.


The most exciting part in these links/blurbs is at the end. Mizzou forced a three-and-out with Howard, Beckner, Moore, and Brady. That's crazy. Also crazy: there are no seniors in the rotation up front, and Josh Augusta and Rickey Hatley are the only juniors. And even if you remove sacks, ASU gained only 110 yards in 43 rushes. This defense is good, and there's every reason to believe it will get better.