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October 5, 2006

Third and long no problem for Mizzou

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To a man, just about every defensive coach in America will say his goal is to put the opposing offense in third and long. More often than not, that will work. But the strategy has backfired on teams facing Missouri so far this season.

The Tigers are converting 52.6% of their third downs this season, the best in the Big 12. Many of those conversions have come on third down and long.

"We practice a lot on third and long, things like that," said William Franklin. "That's something that we practice hard on to make sure we can convert. It's just something that Coach Pinkel and Coach C preach to us."

There is something to be said for Missouri's spread offense being third down friendly. In fact, Brad Ekwerekwu indicated the Tigers might actually be better in third and long than on third and two due to operating out of the spread attack.

"We practice those kind of situations and we have good plays that open up the defense that other teams run on third and long," added the senior receiver. "I think it's confidence with the coaches that we call the plays we can convert on."

However, there may be something else at play in Missouri's success on third and long this season. It might just be as simple as plain, old-fashioned good fortune.

"We've been fortunate there," said Gary Pinkel. "But that's not real smart to think that you're going to keep doing that, especially against this [Texas Tech] defense. What you need to do is you need to get those down, you need to be more efficient on first down and second down and get yourself in shorter third down situations. That's a nice stat that looks pretty good, but you run out of time."

Eventually, that could prove to be true. Very rarely against Big 12 competition are the Tigers likely to convert 11-of-18 third down chances like they did on Saturday against Colorado. But don't tell the players they have been lucky.

"Little bit of luck, I guess, but you've still got to be a playmaker to get the first down," said tight end Martin Rucker, a popular third down target. "There's just playmakers out here. Tommy Saunders, he caught a ball and then he rumbled for 12 yards on third down. It's a little bit of both."

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