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Mizzou Defense Needs to Get on the Same Page

By Matt Osborne
SouthernPigskin.com
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The Missouri defense has been much more reactionary than in has been in previous years, and it seems to be putting the players in an uncomfortable position.

"It’s kind of a read first defense, and I don’t really know what that means. There’s a little bit more to it and the kids are a little bit confused right now."
~Former Missouri WR T.J. Moe

Through just two games of the 2016 regular season, it certainly has not been difficult to see that changes were made to the coaching staff during the offseason at Missouri.

Most notably, longtime head coach Gary Pinkel elected to retire, paving the way for Barry Odom, Missouri’s defensive coordinator during the 2015 season to become the Tigers’ first new head man since 2001.

With Odom having been involved with the Missouri program for a decade under the direction of Pinkel, it was thought that there would not be significant changes made to the defensive culture in Columbia, especially considering the tremendous success which the Tigers had experienced on defense over the past few years.

But that has, thus far, not proven to be the case.

Changes have undoubtedly been made to the defensive scheme, and the players have admittedly been having a difficult time getting used to the new approach.

“Not to say anything bad, but whenever you change something that has been working so well, when you change it, it is frustrating for anybody,” redshirt junior defensive end Charles Harris recently commented after a practice session. “It’s just a matter of are you going to adjust to it or are you just going to keep fighting it? So we basically came to the conclusion that we’ve got to work with it. It ain’t like we can go back and bring back our old defense, no matter how much people want to.” 

For many Missouri fans, there has been a strong desire to see the defense play the same aggressiveness and speed which allowed the unit to register 110 sacks over the last three seasons.

In the final years of Pinkel’s tenure, the Missouri defense was always characterized by its attacking speed-oriented approach, which placed more emphasis on causing chaos than it did on always being fundamentally sound.

Though only two games have been played under the new system, many fans have been less than pleased with the results to date.

Missouri is currently tied for last in the Southeastern Conference, having registered just a single sack through its first two contests.

The defense has been much more reactionary than in has been in previous years, and it seems to be putting the players in an uncomfortable position. And it is a fact that has been made even more apparent by the fact that Missouri’s defensive line, which is still littered with NFL talent, is failing to produce.

“The weird thing that I have been processing the first couple of games is the change in the defensive philosophy for Missouri,” former Tigers receiver T.J. Moe commented on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. “They have got a defensive line that has got Charles Harris and Terry Beckner on it, two guys who are future NFL guys, and they’ve got one sack on the season. It’s kind of a read first defense, and I don’t really know what that means. There’s a little bit more to it and the kids are a little bit confused right now. Thus far, they’ve not been pinning their ears back and just playing football like they did last year when they led the SEC in tackles for loss [during the regular season].”

With last year’s defensive coordinator taking over as head coach, it has been very surprising to see just how drastically the defense has changed in one season in Columbia.

But Moe believes that it could be an offseason coaching departure which is responsible for the current drop in production.

“You can look around and say Craig Kuligowski is the one guy missing from last year. He is in Miami with Mark Richt, and guess who is leading the country in sacks? Miami; they’ve got ten,” Moe continued. “So you are wondering how much of this was a Craig Kuligowski thing? You don’t really know.”

No matter the true reason for the decline in pass rush production for the Missouri defense early in 2016, the fact remains that the team needs to get its troubles figured out in a hurry.

With conference play starting up this Saturday against nationally-ranked Georgia, there is no more time to slowly get acclimated to a new system and to work out the kinks in the process. The Tigers need to play better, and they need to play better right now.

Now, it is simply a matter of whether or not the players and coaches can get on the same page to start producing as their collective talent indicates that they should.

Matt Osborne - Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt's number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at matt@southernpigskin.com.