Missouri defense impresses in spring game - KMOV.com

Missouri defense impresses in spring game

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- In recent seasons, Missouri scored lots of points, then gave them up in bunches, too.

In Saturday's spring game, the Tigers defense forced five turnovers, picked up three sacks and allowed just one offensive touchdown.

Last season, Missouri's defense ranked eighth in Big 12 play in scoring defense and last in the league in pass defense. Now, the team has switched from a passive zone to more aggressive man-to-man play, and the improvements by defensive coordinator Dave Steckel were evident.

"I thought we were very physical, our defense hit hard," head coach Gary Pinkel said. "That's good."

The aggressive coverage resulted in four interceptions, including one by returning starter Kevin Rutland, who enjoys playing in the new system.

"It's more fun because it's a more aggressive style of cornerback," he said. "We're not waiting for so many things to happen."

One person in attendance who was impressed was NFL-draft prospect Sean Weatherspoon.

"I like the way they're playing, really flying around," the linebacker said. "Steckel's got some new stuff that he put in for them and these guys have really done a good job with it."

No one knows that better than offensive coordinator David Yost, who watched starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert complete eight of 15 passes for 82 yards. His backup, freshman James Franklin was 9-of-17 including two interceptions.

"They're playing with a lot of confidence, and they're attacking," Yost said. "They got a lot of edge pressure with some really talented defensive ends."

One of those defensive ends is Aldon Smith, the 2009 Big 12 freshman of the year who was third in the league with 11.5 sacks. Smith was all over the field and had a big hit on Franklin to force a fumble -- a move he later regretted.

"I think I messed up when I hit the quarterback in the head," he said. "Overall, it was a good day for us."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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