Missouri and Texas A&M prepare for tough sledding vs. SEC defenses

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Aggies offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury says there are 'no weaknesses' in SEC defenses. (US Presswire)  
Aggies offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury says there are 'no weaknesses' in SEC defenses. (US Presswire)  

David Yost, the offensive coordinator at Missouri, has been watching a lot of video of the opposing defenses the Tigers will face this fall when they become a member of the SEC.

There were times, said Yost, when he wanted to cover his eyes. "We had fast defenses in the Big 12," said Yost, in his 12th year at Mizzou and his 15th year with coach Gary Pinkel. "But these guys are fast and they are huge! Maybe once or twice a year did we ever see a defense with people that big who can run like that. There are a bunch of them in this league."

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It's fair to say that Kliff Kingsbury knows offense. He threw for more than 12,000 career yards for Mike Leach at Texas Tech. Last season, with Kingsbury as offensive coordinator and Case Keenum at quarterback, Houston led the nation in total offense (599 ypg). Four of the past five offenses Kingsbury has coached have finished in the top five nationally. The only exception was 2010 when Keenum was hurt and played less than three games.

Kingsbury came to Texas A&M with head coach Kevin Sumlin and was not completely prepared for what he saw on the tapes of the Aggies' upcoming SEC opponents.

"The level of athlete playing defense in the SEC is different," said Kingsbury. "Most teams we have faced in the past had to do things to hide their weak spots. They have to disguise some of the things that they do. The defenses I've seen so far don't have any weaknesses."

Yost and Kingsbury are in the process of learning a very important lesson about life in the SEC. While it is true that the SEC has produced three of the last five Heisman Trophy winners (Florida's Tim Tebow, 2007; Alabama's Mark Ingram, 2009; Auburn's Cam Newton, 2010), the league has won six straight BCS national championships because of defense. Look at the last six BCS championship games:

SEC's Top 10 defenses in 2011
Ranking Team Yards per game Returning starters
No. 1 Alabama 183.86 5
No. 2 LSU 261.50 5
No. 3 S. Carolina 267.69 6
No. 5 Georgia 277.21 10
No. 8 Florida 299.54 10

2006: Florida defeated No. 1 Ohio State 41-14 in Glendale, Ariz. The Buckeyes, who had Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, had no answer for Florida's No. 6 defense. The Buckeyes returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and were held to one touchdown the rest of the night.

2007: LSU became the first team with two regular-season losses to make the BCS title game. As it turned out, the Tigers deserved to be there as their defense, ranked No. 3, dominated No. 1 Ohio State 38-24.

2008: Oklahoma entered the BCS championship game leading the nation in scoring at more than 50 points per game. Florida, with the nation's No. 9 defense, beat them 24-14.

2009: Alabama, with the nation's No. 2 defense, defeated Texas 37-21. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was knocked out of the game and the Longhorns were held to only 276 total yards.

2010: Auburn was the exception to this rule, with the nation's No. 60 defense. But in the BCS championship game when it counted, the Tigers held Oregon, who was leading the nation in scoring (47 point avg.), to only 19 points to win 22-19.

2011: Two SEC teams, Alabama and LSU, met for the championship. Alabama finished No. 1 and LSU No. 2 in total defense. LSU was a clear No. 1 in the BCS Standings and the voters had to choose between Alabama, which did not win its conference, and Oklahoma State, which did. The voters looked at the Alabama defense and the Oklahoma State offense and chose the Crimson Tide to play in the game.

"It was the biggest difference I saw when I came to the SEC and it was the difference whenever our teams played outside the conference," said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who won two national championships in his six seasons (2005-2010) at Florida. "The defenses in the SEC are bigger, faster, and more athletic. That is just a fact."

And it has been this way for a while.

"Oh, it will be an adjustment," former Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum said of the Aggies' transition to the SEC. "We played LSU a bunch (Slocum was 6-1 against the Tigers) and they just grow 'em a lot bigger and a lot faster in that part of the world. And you really don't believe it until you see it. We've got to get out and recruit some of those guys."

Last season, five of the top eight defenses in college football were from the SEC: 1) Alabama; 2) LSU; 3) South Carolina; 5) Georgia; 8) Florida. Thirty-six of 55 starters return on those defenses in 2012.

Missouri has to face four of those five defenses in its inaugural SEC season, starting with Georgia at home on Sept. 8.

"I can't tell you how many times we looked at the tape and one of the coaches would say 'So who's going to block THAT guy?" said Yost. Both Yost and Kingsbury run a version of the spread offense. Missouri relies on the running and passing of quarterback James Franklin, who had almost 4,000 yards of total offense last season. Kingsbury basically runs a combination of Leach's and Dana Holgorsen's systems, which rely heavily on the passing of the quarterback. Last season Keenum threw for 5,631 yards and 48 touchdowns. Houston averaged 48.7 passes per game. The Aggies have to settle on a quarterback now that Ryan Tannehill is gone as the No. 8 pick in the NFL Draft.

"We have to do what we do best, but we won't be able to throw it 60 or 70 times per game," said Kingsbury, whose team opens SEC play by hosting Florida on Sept. 8. "We'll have to be creative in some of the things that we do."

The problem, in a nutshell, said Yost, is that SEC defenses are too big to move and too fast to outrun.

"What we try to do is put people in space and to get the defense in positions they don't want to be in," said Yost. "Based on what I've seen there are very few SEC offenses that can just blow people off the ball and run it. The defenses are too good."

Yost won't have to wait long to see his first SEC defense up close and personal. Georgia returns 10 starters from the nation's No. 5 defense. The Bulldogs' top three defensive linemen are tackles John Jenkins (6-3, 351), Kwame Geathers (6-6, 350), and end Abry Jones (6-3, 309). Georgia has one of the best pass rushers in America in outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (6-3, 241, No. 5 nationally with 13.5 sacks last season).

Two weeks later Missouri has to go to South Carolina where the Tigers will be introduced to a 6-foot-6, 256-pound man-child named Jadeveon Clowney (7th in the SEC in sacks as a true freshman).

"It's going to be different. No doubt about it," said Yost.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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