What started out as a simple experiment has turned into one of the most effective killing machines Missouri has ever seen.
Head Scientist Gary Pinkel and Science Coordinator Dave Steckel have been researching defensive line genetics for years, and have had a great deal of success. Four first round NFL draft picks and countless other standout players have been developed during their time at Mizzou, but their current project has the potential to leave all of the others in the dust. Defensive line engineer Craig Kuligowski seems to have stumbled upon the perfect genetic makeup for a lethal defensive line, and I was able to get a first-hand look.
I arrived at the facilities and was greeted by a smiling Kuligowski. He showed me inside where we met up with Steckel, and soon we all found ourselves standing next to a huge fence that was buzzing with electricity. "So this is where you keep them?" I asked.
"Precisely." He answered. "They'll have heard us coming, they're probably studying you as we speak." I was taken aback.
"Studying me? What do you mean?"
"They're incredibly smart." Kuligowski explained. "They zero in on any potential target in an attempt to discern the best methods of attack." This worried me a bit, but I pressed on with the interview.
"What kind of metabolism do they have? What's their growth rate?"
"They're lethal at eight months, and I do mean lethal. Stec and I have hunted most things that can hunt you, but the way these things move..."
"Fast for a biped?" I interjected. The coach smiled.
"Cheetah speed. Fifty, sixty miles an hour if they ever get out in the open, and they're astonishing jumpers."
"Yes, yes, yes. That's why we're taking extreme precautions." Steckel made a point to say. I got the impression that there had been some questions about their containment procedures, but decided not to press the issue.
"Do they show intelligence?" I asked, changing the subject.
"They show extreme intelligence, even problem-solving intelligence. Especially Michael Sam. We bred eight originally, but when he came in he took over the pride and started putting up ridiculous sack numbers. That one, when he looks at you, you can see he's working things out." Kuligowski said as we watched a live cow be lowered into the pen by a crane. "That's why we have to feed them like this. He had them all attacking the fences when the feeders came."
"But the fences are electrified though, right?" I nervously asked.
"That's right." The coach said gravely. "But they never attack the same place twice. They were testing the fences for weaknesses, systematically. They remember."
"And what is it like facing that sort of cold-blooded killer from the quarterback's perspective?"
"It's terrifying." Steckel answered. "Try to imagine yourself taking the snap. You get your first look at Kony Ealy as you enter the pocket. He moves like a bird, lightly, bobbing his head. And you keep still because you think that maybe your left tackle will pick him up and drive him upfield. He'll lose if you don't move. But no, not Kony. You look downfield, and that's when the attack comes. Not from the front, but from the side."
"From the two other linemen you didn't even know were there." Kuligowski added. "Because our linemen are pack hunters, you see. They use coordinated attack patterns and they swarm you. You're still thinking about your reads when they hit you."
After hearing all of this, I was eager to see these beasts in action. The two coaches were more than happy to oblige, and I was provided with some tape of the Florida game. You'll see that QB Tyler Murphy finds his top target Solomon Patton wide open. He takes aim, thinking that he's about to pick up some decent passing yards, but at that point it's already too late.
Murphy never stood a chance, Missouri's defensive line is just too deadly. They recorded six sacks that day, with Sam accounting for half of them, and that wasn't even their most prolific performance. Sam and company have spelled certain doom for quarterbacks all season, and there's no reason to believe that they'll stop any time soon.
Steckel and Kuligowski have assembled what may end up being the most lethal pack of sack hunters Mizzou has ever seen, so enjoy this run while you can.
And thank the football gods that they're on our team and not threatening to ruin our offensive schemes.