Mizzou's Greatest, #95: 2013 defensive ends

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri's defensive ends combined for 55.5 tackles for loss, 32 sacks, and countless game-turning plays during the Tigers' top-five finish in 2013.

Okay, fine, so this is going to be a little bit awkward from a general taxonomy perspective. You're supposed to have top-100 lists, not top-107 lists. Sue us. Our punishment for not finishing last year's Greatest list is that it will now become a living list, one we will be changing this summer, and one that, if we're lucky, we'll have to change at least slightly with each passing academic year.

As we go about updating the list, I'll provide links for the updated countdown within each post. Since these pieces haven't been on the front page for a year, it will give us a chance to enjoy each of them again as we go.

96-97. Phil Bradley and James Wilder
98. Mizzou-Louisville 1982
99. Mel Gray
100. MIZ-SEC
101. Justin Smith
102. The Moe Miracle
103. Mizzou-Texas A&M 2007
104. Larry Drew
105. Mizzou-Kansas State 1969
106. The trailblazers
107. Mizzou Volleyball 2005
Honorable Mention

***

Alright, with that out of the way, let's talk defensive ends. Mizzou had its own fearsome foursome in 2013. One could certainly make the case that they should make the list on stats alone, as the stats were ridiculous.

Shane Ray: 33.0 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 11 hurries, two fumbles forced, one recovered.

Markus Golden: 45.5 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, eight hurries, one fumble forced, two recovered.

Kony Ealy: 36.5 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 14 hurries, three fumbles forced, one recovered.

Michael Sam: 39.5 tackles, 19.0 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, nine hurries, two fumbles forced, one recovered.

Add that up. That's 154.5 tackles, 55.5 tackles for loss, 32.0 sacks, 42 hurries, eight fumbles forced, and five recovered. From two (sometimes three) positions on the field. Eleven teams didn't have that many TFLs on their entire roster, and 88 didn't have that many sacks. Between a pass-heavy set of opponents and the simple fact that Mizzou was leading those opponents for a vast majority of the season, Mizzou faced a lot of pass attempts. The most in the country, actually. The Tigers responded by nearly recording the most sacks as well. And they did so with minimal blitzing.

That the four all had their own unique personalities helped. Ray was the pure speedster, a 245-pound "freak" with a 4.44 40 and a more than 40-inch vertical. Golden was the raw athlete, the newbie at the position who was still learning technique but consistently put himself in position to make plays. Ealy was the physical marvel, the guy who would have been a pretty high draft pick on potential alone. And Sam was the motor, the former two-star athlete who took "giving it 110%" back from cliché status and turned it into a factual statement. He was also the Michael Sam Sack Dance personified. Getting to know these four over the course of their careers and this specific season was consistently rewarding.

But stats and personality alone probably don't get you on this list. This foursome ranks among Mizzou's greatest because of impact. The Tigers finished 12-2 and fifth in the country last year; they don't do it without the contributions of each of these four.

Early in the third quarter of a tense Toledo game, the Rockets are driving to potentially tie until Markus Golden scares the ball right out of Terrance Owens' hands and takes it back for a score.

Late in the second quarter against Indiana, with the Hoosiers threatening to tie the game, Kony Ealy jumps to deflect a pass, and the ball sticks in his hands.

With Mizzou's offense starting slow against Arkansas State, Michael Sam sacks ASU quarterback Adam Kennedy twice on third down in the first half, then finishes a 41-19 romp with a sack-and-strip. He makes three more the next week in a blowout of Vanderbilt in Nashville, then makes three more to help Mizzou thump Florida as well.

Midway through a battle with Georgia in Athens, Mizzou has just taken a 21-10 lead when Shane Ray and Michael Sam team up to make it 28-10.

In November, with teams adjusting to Sam's dominance, Ealy erupted. He had three sacks of his own against Kentucky, and against Texas A&M, the foursome combined for three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and five hurries of Johnny Manziel.

In the SEC Championship, Ealy forced two fumbles to help give Mizzou an early lead.

And in the Cotton Bowl, not only did Ealy make two sacks on one drive in the first half, but with the game on the line and Mizzou needing to make one more play ... Mizzou made one more play.

The defensive ends' highlight reel was Mizzou's highlight reel in 2013. This foursome provided obscene stats, leadership, and more timely plays than any other position for one of Mizzou's most successful teams. You're damn right they're one of Mizzou's Greatest.

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