NCAA Football Missouri TigersSEC Football

Missouri Tigers: Defense Plays Well in Spring Game

Kim Klement, USA TODAY SPORTS

The Missouri Tigers suffered through a 5-7 season in 2012, their first in the Southeastern Conference. Mizzou has many questions on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense could turn out to be a strong suit in 2013, if Saturday’s Missouri spring game is any indication.

In Saturday’s format, the game was actually 40 minutes long, with two 12-minute quarters and a pair of eight-minute quarters. During that time period, only three touchdowns were scored, and the first-team defense did not allow a first down for nearly the entire first half for head coach Gary Pinkel.

A pair of defensive linemen had big games for the Tigers on Saturday. Defensive end Michael Sam, who had a good spring overall, had four tackles, including a couple of sacks in the game. The highlight of the day came from defensive tackle Matt Hoch, who tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage, then made an acrobatic interception. Overall, Hoch had three tackles in the game.

Defensive back Xavier Smith had a big day as well, posting three tackles, an interception and a pass broken up.

Another of Mizzou’s defensive backs, E.J. Gaines, has already established himself as one of the best coverage men in the SEC. During the 2012 season, Gaines led the team with 11 pass break-ups and also had a career-high 74 tackles. Opponents know where Gaines is, and they generally try to stay away from his side of the field.

Last season, Missouri ranked 58th in the country in total defense, giving up 391 yards per game to opponents. The Tigers were 68th in nationally in scoring defense, giving up 28.4 points per contest.

If Mizzou can improve on those numbers in 2013, the Tigers’ second season in the SEC could turn out to be much better than their first.