Productive ends fuel Missouri’s defense

Missouri defensive lineman Jacquies Smith (left) congratulates teammate Aldon Smith after he sacked Illinois quarterback Juice Williams during the fourth quarter of last year’s game in St. Louis.

Missouri defensive lineman Jacquies Smith (left) congratulates teammate Aldon Smith after he sacked Illinois quarterback Juice Williams during the fourth quarter of last year’s game in St. Louis. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri has a pair of defensive ends with much more in common than the last name.

Aldon Smith and Jacquies Smith are not related, one from Missouri and the other from Texas. They both played tight end in high school, harboring thoughts of making big plays on offense, too.

They’ve wound up making a difference on a defense that allows a Big 12-best 17.8 points per game for the 15th-ranked Tigers.

The Smiths made a nice tag team in last week’s 38-28 victory over Kansas State. Aldon Smith delivered a bonecrunching, blind-side hit on quarterback Carson Coffman for a sack and forced fumble, and Jacquies Smith scooped up the ball on a 53-yard scoring return.

“When I was rushing the passer, all I heard was boom, like two trucks crashing into each other,” Jacquies Smith said. “I just saw the gift lying on the ground and I had to pick the gift up and take it to the house.”

The fumble recovery was the second of the game for Jacquies Smith, who scored his third career touchdown. Last season, he returned an interception 43 yards against Furman and caught a touchdown pass on a fake field goal at Colorado.

The Tigers (8-2, 4-2 Big 12) have been improvising since tackle Dominique Hamilton was lost for the season with a broken ankle in a victory over Oklahoma on Oct. 23.

“A lot of techniques Aldon uses apply to both spots,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “With his techniques and fundamentals, I think he just carries them inside.”

Aldon Smith was named Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year last season when he had a school-record 11 1 /2 sacks. He has missed three games this season after breaking his fibula in the final moments of Missouri’s 27-24 victory over San Diego State on Sept. 18.

He has 4 1 /2 sacks on the year despite acknowledging his leg hasn’t fully healed.

“It started off kind of slow because I was trying to rush myself back but it’s getting a lot better,” he said. “The recovery and treatment I’ve been getting has been amazing. I’m starting to progress a little bit better.”

Jacquies Smith was a backup tight end at South Oak Cliff High in Dallas. Aldon Smith caught 34 passes for 570 yards and four touchdowns as a senior for Raytown.

A friendly competition has since developed who would make a better tight end in college.

“I got recruited as a tight end by a couple different schools,” Aldon Smith said. “I think I’d definitely be better.”

Jacquies Smith notes Aldon Smith was chased down from behind on his only opportunity to score, a 58-yard interception return against Oklahoma.

“He has huge hands but I’m a lot faster and I think my routes would be crisper,” he said. “I’m 3-for-3 with the ball in my hands in space and Aldon is 0-for-1, if I’m not mistaken.”

All competition aside, the Smiths have developed a close relationship since arriving at Missouri. Aldon Smith spent his first season learning how to study film and adjusting to campus life.

“When he redshirted, I was teaching him a lot back then about the mental part of the game,” Jacquies Smith said. “Aldon has all the physical tools. Everyone can see that.”

The Smith’s contributions have helped Missouri lead the Big 12 in sacks, averaging three per game. The Tigers rank second in the nation in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score 57 percent of the time.

They’ll look to continue those trends when they travel Saturday to Iowa State (5-6, 3-4 Big 12). The Cyclones need a win to become bowl eligible.

Although Aldon Smith refers to Jacquies Smith as his “big brother,” the duo hasn’t agreed on a nickname, only rejecting the suggestion of “Smith Brothers.”

“We’ll have to brainstorm,” Aldon Smith said.

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