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Big test awaits Mizzou's improved defense

Missouri's first two major defensive tests?

Perhaps not failures, but far from successes.

Arizona State's Brock Osweiler threw for three touchdowns and 353 yards and the Sun Devils racked up just under 500 yards of offense.

Two weeks later, Oklahoma's Landry Jones threw for three more touchdowns and 448 yards. Oklahoma beat the Tigers 38-28 and had almost 600 yards of offense.

Lesser offenses followed, and the Tigers responded, holding Kansas State and Iowa State to a combined 298 yards passing. Iowa State didn't reach 400 yards of offense. Kansas State had fewer than 300.

"We’ve been pretty aggressive. There’s some things we need to learn, but I think experience within the group is improving during the season so far," said linebacker Luke Lambert.

This week?

"We’re going to certainly get tested this week against maybe the best offense in the nation," coach Gary Pinkel said of No. 4 Oklahoma State, "so we’ll see where we go here, but certainly the consistency of play is the thing I’m maybe most concerned about."

He's not exaggerating. The Cowboys, who didn't meet Mizzou last year, come to Columbia rolling up points and yardage just as quickly as they did during last year's 11-win season.

OSU ranks second nationally with more than 550 yards a game and scores an average of 49.2 points a game, more than every team in the FBS but Wisconsin.

That improving Missouri defense meets another big challenge. We'll see Saturday how it measures up.

"I think we’ve done a great job, especially this last week, of when we’re put in a bad situation, how the defense reacts to it," Lambert said. "We don’t pout or have a bad attitude. We can stop people. The first part of the season, maybe we didn’t do so well, but it’s something we’ve definitely built on."

Last year's defensive line was arguably the league's best, and returned every starter. The team's top defensive tackle, Dominique Hamilton, returned after a broken ankle and the line was bolstered by the addition of hyped juco recruit Sheldon Richardson. Sophomore Michael Sam and Kony Ealy figured to offer solid depth to a line looking to help out a new set of cornerbacks.

Missouri is tied for fourth in the Big 12 in sacks but is just one tackle-for-loss behind leader Oklahoma, at 47.

But 3-3 isn't where Missouri envisioned itself at the season's midpoint. For Pinkel, it circles back to the search for consistency.

"If I had an answer for that, I’d fix it. We’ve shuffled some players in and out," he said. "Statistically, we’re pretty decent in relationship to the league in the three games league-wise. We have to coach better and play better."

There won't be any hiding from an offense that will test every bit of the Tigers' improvement on Saturday. Be solid, or be exposed. A climb back above .500 depends on it.

"Plays will happen if everybody’s [focused and emotionally invested], and this last week kind of showed that," Lambert said. "Hopefully, we can build on what we started."