Big 12 football schedule keeps Missouri defense on its toes

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 | 8:38 p.m. CDT

A schedule full of Big 12 Conference opponents doesn't offer a defense much chance to catch its breath.

Each week brings another offensive threat, be it a high-flying passing game, an explosive ground game, a Heisman-contending quarterback or an eye-popping book of statistics.

That's life for the Missouri defense.

And they're fine with it.

There have been struggles for the unit this season, starting with a loss at Arizona State and followed up by big point totals for the offenses from Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

And, things aren't scheduled to get easier. This weekend features a date with a Texas A&M offense that's scoring more than 40 points per game.

But, the Tigers' defensive players aren't complaining about their schedule packed with five of the nation's top-seven teams in terms of offensive yardage.

"We knew this was going to be it, with the Big 12 being how it is this year," safety Kenji Jackson said Monday. "We're going to be going against good offenses every week. We were really anticipating that, we knew it was going to be like that, so it's just another challenge for us … I'm excited. I look forward to going in there and playing those guys."

"Those guys" are the Aggies, and some of them are putting up impressive numbers. Wide receiver Ryan Swope ranks fourth, and wide receiver Jeff Fuller ranks seventh in the conference in receptions per game. The quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, threw six touchdown passes in a game against Baylor earlier this season. This season, Texas A&M hasn't found a scoreboard it can't make go to 29 or higher.

Missouri cornerback Kip Edwards said there is a lot of pressure on all of the defenses in the conference to slow such high-scoring offenses. But the Missouri defense, which has been susceptible to big plays all year long, isn't fretting about another week with another offensive powerhouse across the line of scrimmage. The players know it's part of the game, and they're looking forward to the opportunity.

"You're not supposed to catch your breath in the game of football," Edwards said. "You're just supposed to be in shape. We, as a defense, are excited for the challenge. It's time for us as a defense to step up and play better."

The defense has had its struggles this season. Last week's game against Oklahaoma State — a team that jumped to No. 3 in the BCS standings released Sunday — featured the high mark of the year for points against the Tigers. The Cowboys scored 45 points against Missouri.

The schedule won't allow the Tigers much of a break at any point during the rest of the year. After A&M on Saturday, the Tigers take on Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech in consecutive weeks. All three teams can produce big scoring totals.

"We're going to be playing good teams every week," Jackson said. "We know what to expect. I mean, there's going to be different players, but we know the caliber of games. There's not going to be any rinky-dink teams.

"These next five games, we're going to have to really focus in and play our best football. … It makes you better knowing that next week, there's going to be another big one. We might as well just strap up and enjoy the ride while we still can."

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel pointed out that a key to winning games against these offenses is to match their offensive production. Missouri's offense ranks No. 12 in the country in yards per game but doesn’t even rank in the top half of its own conference. Pinkel said his offense will need to score points in order to match Texas A&M's firepower.

The Missouri defense knows the next several weeks will provide several tough tests.

"You don't get to take a break in this conference," Missouri linebacker Luke Lambert said. "That's what makes it so competitive."

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