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An airing of grievances, Missouri Defense edition

We’ve complained about the offense. Now let’s fix our gaze on the other side of the ball.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri’s defense has been disappointing in 2016. The Tigers ranked 13th in Def. S&P+ last year and returned 16 of their top 21 tacklers — most of the first and second string — from that unit. But they’ve fallen to 51st in Def. S&P+ this year. They prevent big plays pretty well (LSU game aside), but that’s about it. They have been substandard in terms of both efficiency and (until last Saturday, at least) red zone defense.

The pass defense has been decent (33rd in Passing S&P+) despite a bad pass rush. The run defense, meanwhile, has been a sieve (106th in Rushing S&P+).

So let’s do some complaining.

Once again:

With all of the proper disclaimers -- that coaches and players can be criticized or critiqued without the calling for either their heads or the second-stringer -- I'm going to talk about the things that frustrate me the most about this team right now. I encourage you to do the same.

And if you're wanting to talk about things that need to happen for this team to improve (which I encourage), please refrain from the typical "[Coach A] needs to not suck at his job" level stuff. It's annoying, it's repetitive, and it's ridiculous.

Let’s fire away. I’ll go first.

Ceiling > floor

Fans love upside, while coaches spend a lot of time worrying about downside. It’s what leads to them making choices based on safety and smaller likelihood of glitches. It’s what leads them to start a limited senior over a raw, athletic freshman.

For a defense that has had trouble with gap control, you can see how leaning on discipline and knowing your assignments would make sense. And you can maybe understand why Missouri has elected to start Jordan Harold, AJ Logan, and Rickey Hatley on the line instead of more high-upside options.

But it’s not working. Obviously. Missouri has a bad run defense and mostly nonexistent pass rush. Charles Harris hasn’t gotten the help he needs, and he’s constantly coming up a step short in his big-play quest.

Harold, Hatley, and Logan have combined for 2.5 tackles for loss in seven games. Combined! 2.5! That’s horrific. Hell, they’ve made only 20.0 tackles, period, and 11 of those come from Hatley.

Plus, starting this trio hasn’t led to better gap control and discipline; at least, it hasn’t led to those things being strengths. Missouri is dreadfully inefficient against the run.

You can play more for a high floor instead of a high ceiling. It makes sense ... as long as it works. It’s not working for Missouri.

The pass defense has allowed a better than 114 passer rating only once all year (and LSU’s 123.8 was far from dominant); the run defense is the issue. And Terry Beckner Jr. and Josh Augusta are still getting fewer snaps than Logan and Hatley.

The worm has begun to turn at defensive end, where Marcell Frazier saw 60 snaps to Harold’s 24 (and Spencer Williams’ 13) on Saturday. But the tackle situation is still muddy. Augusta and Beckner contributed to five tackles (including one far downfield) and hurried the quarterback twice in 68 combined snaps. Logan and Hatley contributed to two tackles and had one hurry in 86 snaps.

I realize conditioning is an issue here — Augusta is still enormous, and Beckner has only recently reached 100 percent (if he’s even now 100 percent) after last season’s knee injury. But they can still probably handle another five to 10 snaps per game. It would be a start, anyway.

Missouri v LSU
Terry Beckner Jr.
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

If you’re going to make defensive changes, make defensive changes.

Of course, to talk about how many plays linemen are making is to ignore the potential purpose of linemen in a given scheme. In your basic 3-4 scheme, linemen are asked to occupy blockers and plug holes, allowing linebackers to flow to the ball. In that case, you can be involved in very few tackles and still end up having done your job really well.

The obvious, extreme example: Mountainous former Alabama lineman Terrance Cody, listed at 6’5, 365, was credit with just 20.0 tackles in 14 games in 2009. But he was fantastic all the same.

Now, coaches tend to speak more about gaps and coverage (man vs. zone) more than they do about whether a scheme is 4-3 or 3-4. So what I’m about to say is perhaps a little bit too generalized. But ... if you’re going to instill the principles of a 3-4 line, shouldn’t you at least benefit from actually having a 3-4?

A 3-4 scheme gets more speed on the field and creates more potential deception. Indeed, in 28 snaps in the 3-4 on Saturday in Gainesville, Missouri created three of its four takeaways and recorded its only sack. But the Tigers still went 3-4 in only 28 snaps and went 4-3 in 38.

The overall yardage was basically the same — 6.7 yards per play allowed from the 4-3, 6.9 from the 3-4. But that kind of bolsters my point. If you’re going to shift to principles seen more from a two-gap 3-4 system, at least reap the benefits of the scheme. If you’re going to ask linemen to fill gaps more than attack, you might as well be putting more speed on the field. I realize there’s been an issue with missed tackles at linebacker; but that fourth lineman isn’t making those tackles either.

If you’re going to change, change. Missouri’s in a bit of a no-man’s land at the moment. Its line coach, Jackie Shipp, was part of a super-aggressive Arizona State system last year that featured three down linemen and a hybrid DE/OLB. Barry Odom found massive success using three down linemen at Memphis. Many have long assumed that Odom will eventually move to a 3-4 at Missouri. If that’s the case ... do it. Waiting isn’t providing much benefit.

Changing from a super-fun, attacking defensive front to something more passive and reactive isn’t very much fun, but it can work. But at the moment, it doesn’t really seem like Missouri knows what it wants to be, and that’s very clearly bled into the play on the field.

Since Missouri doesn’t possess a motherlode of disruptive line talent this year — Walter Brady and Harold Brantley were kicked off the team, Nate Howard has been in injury limbo all year, potential-heavy Tre Williams is redshirting, and linebacker Kentrell Brothers is no longer around to clean up messes on misfires up front — I think I would prefer to see the Tigers commit to using a 3-4 more. It might not help with run efficiency, but it could give Mizzou extra speed and disruptive potential.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri
More looks from a 3-4 could mean more snaps for players like Terez Hall, Brandon Lee, and Eric Beisel.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re going to do it, do it.

Your turn.