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November 6, 2013

The Breakdown: Run defense

Missouri's run defense has received plenty of help from a potent, attacking offense this season. Every victory has been by at least 15 points, and in the lone loss, the Tigers still ran out to a 17-0 lead.

Because of that scoring advantage, opposing teams have abandoned the run relatively early. Teams average 31.2 carries against Missouri this season, the lowest total against the Tigers in Pinkel's career in Columbia. The second-lowest total came in 2007, when teams averaged 34 rushing attempts per game against Missouri.

Missouri enters the Kentucky game with the chance to set a new mark that hasn't been done under Pinkel. Since 2001, Missouri hasn't held four consecutive conference opponents to under 100 yards rushing.

In 2006, Missouri held Murray State, Ole Miss, New Mexico and Ohio under 100-yards rushing to start the season. In 2010, Missouri held Colorado, Texas A&M and Oklahoma to under 100 yards rushing, the only other time the Tigers have done that to conference teams.

This season, after surrendering 130 rushing yards to Vanderbilt in a blow out and then 164 rushing yards to Georgia in a game that wasn't put away until late, the Tigers have now held Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee to under 100 yards.

Missouri also hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown since the third quarter against Florida. The last time the Tigers went three games without surrendering a rushing touchdown came in 2010, when Miami (Ohio), Colorado and Texas A&M were all held out of the endzone on the ground.

The Tigers' rush defense may be opportunistic in that big leads have turned opposing teams to the air more and more. But it's held steady when it has been challenged, as only two teams (Toledo and Georgia) have averaged over five yards a carry. No other team has topped more than 3.92 yards per carry.

The Tigers' aren't giving up many big-plays on the ground, either. Opponents have had seven 20-plus yard rushing plays this season against Missouri, which is tied for second in the conference. Alabama leads the conference by surrendering three such plays.

As Missouri continues to play for the SEC East title, much will be made about the quarterback situation or the running game or even a statistically poor pass defense. But, one reason the Tigers have been so good this year has started with the line of scrimmage, and the rush defense statistics back that up.

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