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If Missouri had Idaho’s defense, the Tigers would be bowling this year

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Idaho may be 2-4, but the defense isn’t to blame.

Idaho v Washington State
Tony Lashley (33)
Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

Missouri fans should know as well as anyone how quickly a team’s personality can change. In 2015, the Tigers took the field with maybe their worst offense of all time but played rock-solid defense to compensate. In 2016, with defensive coordinator Barry Odom taking over as head coach, the offense rebounded dramatically ... and the defense collapsed. In 2017, thus far, the offense has been about the same, and the defense has managed to get even worse.

Let’s put that another way:

  • 2013: Missouri was seventh in Off. S&P+ and 22nd in Def. S&P+
  • 2015: Missouri was 123rd in Off. S&P+ and 10th in Def. S&P+
  • 2017: Missouri is 37th in Off. S&P+ and 120th in Def. S&P+

Idaho can relate.

  • 2015: Idaho was 58th in Off. S&P+ and 125th in Def. S&P+
  • 2017: Idaho is 114th in Off. S&P+ and 62nd in Def. S&P+

Despite quarterback Matt Linehan getting a little bit of NFL hype, the offense has gotten worse for two straight years. The defense, meanwhile, has found traction. In 2016, the balance was just good enough to help the Vandals win four one-possession games and go bowling. If they fail to do so this year, in their last FBS sojourn (they’re dropping to FCS next year), blame the offense — the defense is doing its part.

Let’s put that another way, too: If Missouri had Idaho’s defense right now, the Tigers would rank 47th in overall S&P+ right now and would be the projected favorite in each of its final six games. Instead, the Tigers are 95th overall and projected to win just two.

That was ... a disturbing thing to type.

Defensive Line

Buck

  • Leonard Hazewood (6’4, 248, Sr.) — 22.5 tackles, 8.5 TFLs (5.5 sacks), 6 run stuffs, 24% success rate
  • Charles Akanno (6’1, 245, RSFr.) — 5.5 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 3 run stuffs, 1 PBU, 29% success rate

Tackle

  • Zach Cable (6’3, 258, Sr.) — 5.5 tackles, 3 TFLs (2 sacks), 3 run stuffs, 13% success rate
  • DJ Henderson (6’0, 281, Jr.) — 8.5 tackles, 2 TFLs (1.5 sacks), 2 run stuffs, 33% success rate

Nose

  • Arie Anderson (6’1, 302, Sr.) — 17.0 tackles, 2.5 TFLs (2 sacks), 3 run stuffs, 33% success rat
  • Rahsaan Crawford (5’10, 326, RSFr.)

End

  • Aikeem Coleman (6’3, 275, Sr.) — 26.0 tackles, 8.5 TFLs (3 sacks), 11 run stuffs, 1 FF, 19% success rate
  • Ben Taliulu (6’1, 255, Jr.) — 1.0 tackles, 100% success rate

Defensive coordinator Mike Breske, formerly Mike Leach’s defensive coordinator at Washington State, has the experienced pieces he needs to attack this year. As you see above, he’s got four senior starters on the defensive line, and because they’ve been in the program a while, they’ve had time to bulk up quite a bit.

The Vandals are pretty aggressive up front, too. The two starting ends, Leonard Hazewood and Aikeem Coleman, are on pace for 34 combined tackles for loss and 17 sacks, a downright Golden-and-Ray level of production. Idaho ranks 23rd in stuff rate (run stops at or behind the line) and 11th in Adj. Sack Rate.

There’s a lot of strength-vs-strength and weakness-vs-weakness with the matchups in this game. Missouri’s weak pass rush will take on a sieve of an Idaho offensive line; meanwhile, Missouri’s offensive line has produced lovely advanced stats so far (sixth in Adj. Line Yards, 14th in Adj. Sack Rate) to counter what might be Idaho’s biggest strength. If Mizzou indeed wins the battle in the trenches, the Tigers should be able to score enough to win semi-comfortably. But that’s not a given.

Linebackers

NCAA Football: Idaho at UNLV
Kaden Elliss
Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

Sam

  • Kaden Elliss (6’3, 225, Jr.) — 25.5 tackles, 4 TFLs (2 sacks), 5 run stuffs, 2 PBU, 44% success rate
  • Ty Graham (6’0, 218, So.) — 22.0 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1 run stuff, 42% success rate

Mike

  • Tony Lashley (6’1, 239, Jr.) — 52.5 tackles, 6 TFLs (1 sack), 14 run stuffs, 44% success rate
  • Michael Linehan (6’2, 237, So.)

Will

  • Ed Hall (6’0, 219, Jr.) — 32.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 3 run stuffs, 1 INT, 42% success rate
  • Christian Elliss (6’3, 225, Fr.) — 6.5 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 63% success rate

The linemen are all seniors, and the linebackers are all juniors. Kaden Elliss, Tony Lashley, and Ed Hall are well-seasoned — they were each among the team’s top five tacklers as sophomores — and as you see, thy are pretty disruptive in their own right. Lashley is a missile against the run, and Elliss and Hall have made plays against both run and pass.

Again, this is easily the best offense Idaho has faced this year. We’ll see what level of effectiveness the Vandals can find.

Secondary

Idaho v Auburn
Dorian Clark
Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

SS

  • Jalen Hoover (5’10, 185, Fr.) — 17.5 tackles, 4 TFLs, 6 PBU, 1 INT, 59% success rate
  • Jordan Grabski (6’0, 200, Jr.)

FS

  • Armond Hawkins (5’11, 203, Sr.) — 14.5 tackles, 1 FF, 87% success rate

CB

  • Dorian Clark (6’0, 195, Jr.) — 14.0 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 2 run stuffs, 3 PBU, 50% success rate
  • Vaughn Daggs (6’0, 175, RSFr.)

CB

  • Sedrick Thomas (5’10, 180, So.) — 19.0 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 3 run stuffs, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 59% success rate
  • Lloyd Hightower (5’11, 187, So.) — 13.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 3 PBUs, 83% success rate

Kudos, too, to the Idaho secondary for finding a strong level of big-play prevention despite far less experience. The safeties have been around, but the three primary corners are a freshman (Jalen Hoover) and two sophomores (Sedrick Thomas and Lloyd Hightower).

None of the corners are very big, but they’ve combined for a damn fine 6.5 tackles for loss and 13 passes defensed. (Missouri’s DeMarkus Acy, Logan Cheadle, and Adam Sparks, by the way: four TFLs and three passes defensed.)

There’s a chance that Mizzou’s receiving corps is just too fast for Idaho’s secondary to contain, that big-play prevention works a lot better against South Alabama and UL-Lafayette than it does against J’Mon Moore, Johnathon Johnson, and Emanuel Hall. But Idaho has thus far done a lovely job of attacking up front and creating a nice umbrella in the back. Don’t assume Mizzou can actually torch this unit until it actually does.

Special Teams

K

  • Cade Coffey (6’1, 189, RSFr.) — 14-15 PAT, 7-9 FG under 40, 2-2 FG over 40; 29 kickoffs, 14 touchbacks

P

  • Cade Coffey (6’1, 189, RSFr.) — 32 punts, 46.4 average, 59th in punt success rate

KR

  • Aaron Duckworth (5’8, 203, Sr.) — 12 KR, 18.2 average, 121st in KR success rate

PR

  • David Ungerer (5’9, 185, Jr.) — 8 PR, 5.8 average, 72nd in PR success rate
  • Reuben Mwehla (5’10, 182, Sr.) — 1 PR, -1 yards

If there are return opportunities in this game, it’ll likely be for Mizzou’s return game, not Idaho’s. Cade Coffey is averaging a booming 46 yards per punt, but Idaho ranks only 59th in punting success rate because 14 of those punts have been returned, and at an average clip of 11.4 yards. He outkicks his coverage about once per game, it seems.

He’s been solid the rest of the way, though. Paul Petrino took a risk in trusting a freshman with punting, place-kicking, and kickoff duties, and for the most part it’s paid off. Idaho’s return game isn’t producing much, but against Missouri, that doesn’t matter all that much — Mizzou doesn’t give you many return chances anyway.