With injuries and players declaring for the NFL Draft, the Texas Longhorns defense will look different than its regular-season lineup. As the ‘Horns travel to Houston to take on a former conference foe in the Missouri Tigers, the defense must find a way to turn in another impressive performance, in-spite of the losses. If Texas can find a way to limit the Missouri offense in three key areas, they have a chance of defeating their SEC opponent and turning in a winning record,
Since the days of Chase Daniel, Missouri has been able to move the ball, but this season the Tigers are among the best in the country. Their offense is averaging 7.24 yards per play, good enough for No. 6 on the season, and score 1.57 points every minute they are on the field. Texas has been one of the leaders in the conference in slowing down high-powered offenses, their 5.15 yards per play is good enough for No. 2 in the conference. However, when facing the most efficient offense in the conference — the Oklahoma Sooners — Texas allowed 7.73 yards per play.
Third downs are perhaps the most-key indicator for Missouri’s success, or lack thereof, this season. In their seven wins this season, the Tigers converted on 55.5 percent of their attempts on third downs. Conversely, in their five losses, they converted just 36.2 percent of their attempts, including a season-low 2-of-11 performance in Week 3 against the Purdue Boilermakers. Stopping opponents on third-down has been a hallmark of the Texas defense, and playing up to its standard is crucial in this match up. Texas sits No. 4 in the nation on third-down defense, holding opponents to an anemic 27.6 percent conversion rate. In fact, no team has managed to convert more than 36.8 percent of their third-down tries this year, a standard set by the Kansas Jayhawks.
Red zone and red-zone scoring
Missouri is deadly in red zone, and teams who have had success against the Tigers did a great job of keeping them outside of the 20-yard line. Missouri converted 90.2 percent of their red-zone attempts this season, scoring 34 touchdowns and 21 field goals. Even during their five-game losing streak, the Tigers managed to convert 70 percent of their attempts. Rather than limiting red zone conversions, the key in the losses was defenses ability to keep the Tigers out of the zone. Missouri managed just 10 trips to the red zone in those five games, with four of those five games featuring just one visit to the red zone. This season, Texas allowed opponents just 41 trips visits inside the 20 defensively, stopping opponents on 80 percent of those trips. During their regular season, Mizzou managed to make the trip 51 total times.
The Texas defense, in spite of missing Malik Jefferson, Holton Hill and DeShon Elliott, has a chance to show off the talent still playing, and set the mood and the tone for the Longhorns. If the defense can manage to slow down Missouri, Texas has a chance for its first winning season and bowl win since 2012 and extend its 17-6 record against Missouri.