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Missouri Defense Practices Safeties in Numbers

Cam Hilton, Khalil Oliver, Joshuah Bledsoe and Tyree Gillespie have all had their moments in the sun this season.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Missouri
Joshuah Bledsoe, despite being the only one of the Tigers’ main four safeties not to start a game this year, has seen the most snaps of the group against Power-5 competition.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Gone are the days of Braylon Webb, Ian Simon and Matt White.

Those were Missouri safeties that, through up and down, through thick and thin, through run stuff in the gap and head-scratching arm tackle whiff, rarely ever left the field.

Even if the performance varied in quality, there was always something comforting about that consistency, which has just not been a thing in the Barry Odom era of safeties continually cycling into and out of the proverbial doghouse.

Here an Anthony Sherrils. There a Thomas Wilson. Here a Prewett, there a Hilton, everywhere a Perkins, Ulmer.

The 2018 Tigers have been no different. Cam Hilton and Khalil Oliver started off the year as the starters set in stone, pretty much. Since then, Tyree Gillespie has asserted himself on the depth, Joshuah Bledsoe has expanded his role from nickelback to full-on safety and everything seems pretty dang interchangeable back there...again.

For the season, Hilton has played 61.1 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, Oliver 57.2, Bledsoe 55.5 (or 60.5, if you don’t count the Wyoming game, which he sat) and Gillespie 40.6.

If we denote “starters” purely by amount of snaps played in a game, see how the safeties rotate:

UT Martin — Bledsoe/Hilton/Oliver (tie)
Wyoming — Hilton/Oliver
Purdue — Hilton/Oliver
Georgia — Oliver/Bledsoe
South Carolina — Hilton/Bledsoe
Alabama — Bledsoe/Gillespie
Memphis — Gillespie/Hilton/Bledsoe (tie)
Kentucky — Gillespie/Hilton
Florida — Oliver/Bledsoe
Vanderbilt — Hilton/Oliver

(And, with Adam Sparks out over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a lot of the four of them on the field at the same time in the Dime set.)

With all this in mind — and with that running back post I did a few weeks back fresh on the brain — I wanted to see if there was a demonstrable difference in how the defense has performed with each of the four safeties on the field this season.


Cam Hilton (Snap% — 61.1)

Snaps per Total Tackle: 18.4
Run: 169 for 742 (4.39 per), 4 TD, 1 TO
Pass: 140-of-244, 1832 yards (7.51 per), 11 TD, 3 TO
Sack: 11 for -64
Total: 424 for 2510 (5.92 per), 15 TD, 4 TO

Khalil Oliver (Snap% — 57.2)

Snaps per Total Tackle: 14.4
Run: 191 for 802 (4.20 per), 5 TD, 1 TO
Pass: 118-of-199, 1569 yards (7.88 per), 11 TD, 6 TO
Sack: 7 for -49
Total: 397 for 2322 (5.85 per), 16 TD, 7 TO

Joshuah Bledsoe (Snap% — 55.5)

Snaps per Total Tackle: 22.0
Run: 165 for 760 (4.61 per), 5 TD
Pass: 114-of-208, 1577 yards (7.58 per), 12 TD, 5 TO
Sack: 12 for -75
Total: 385 for 2262 (5.88 per), 17 TD, 5 TO

Tyree Gillespie (Snap% — 40.6)

Snaps per Total Tackle: 12.3
Run: 128 for 633 (4.95 per), 3 TD
Pass: 84-of-146, 1199 yards (8.21 per), 9 TD, 2 TO
Sack: 8 for -48
Total: 282 for 1784 (6.33 per), 12 TD, 2 TO


Joshuah Bledsoe (Snap% — 60.7)

Snaps per Total Tackle: 20.8
Run: 128 for 582 (4.55 per), 2 TD
Pass: 94-of-165, 1291 yards (7.82 per), 9 TD, 3 TO
Sack: 8 for -64
Total: 301 for 1809 (6.01 per), 11 TD, 3 TO

Khalil Oliver (Snap% — 59.7)

Snaps per Total Tackle: 15.2
Run: 137 for 602 (4.39 per), 2 TD
Pass: 93-of-153, 1330 yards (8.69 per), 11 TD, 4 TO
Sack: 6 for -47
Total: 296 for 1885 (6.37 per), 13 TD, 4 TO

Cam Hilton (Snap% — 59.5)

Snaps per Total Tackle: 17.9
Run: 114 for 531 (4.66 per), 2 TD
Pass: 109-of-176, 1516 yards (8.61 per), 11 TD, 1 TO
Sack: 5 for -38
Total: 295 for 2009 (6.81 per), 13 TD, 1 TO

Tyree Gillespie (Snap% — 42.5)

Snaps per Total Tackle: 10.3
Run: 94 for 460 (4.89 per), 2 TD
Pass: 68-of-112, 927 yards (8.28 per), 6 TD, 1 TO
Sack: 5 for -41
Total: 211 for 1346 (6.38 per), 8 TD, 1 TO

A few thoughts:

  • Kind of interesting that, overall, Hilton has the most snaps among the safeties but, once we break it down into Power-5 games, he actually comes in third behind Bledsoe and Oliver. Much of that has to do with a 14-snap outing against Georgia, when he was battling a broken hand, but even in healthy games, he finished outside the top two in snaps against Alabama and Florida.
  • He is the only one to “start” all 10 games, though. Gillespie and Oliver each have five and Bledsoe, despite getting the most exposure against Power-5 competition, has zero.
  • The “Snaps per Total Tackle” measure is for the evolved understanding of total tackles (solo plus one-half assisted) and for only tackles made on defense. Not special teams.
  • Isn’t it crazy how close the top three’s yards per play against is against all competition? Hilton’s is 5.92, Oliver’s is 5.85 and Bledsoe’s is 5.88. Gillespie’s is a little off the pace, at 6.33.
  • The defense has performed best as a whole against the run with Oliver (4.20) on the field and best against the pass with Hilton (7.51).
  • The averages spread out a little bit more against the Power 5: Bledsoe (6.01), Oliver (6.37), Gillespie (6.38) and Hilton (6.81). Hilton’s numbers appear to have been helped the most by non-Power-5 play, and Gillespie’s don’t budge much at all.
  • Against the Power 5, the run defense performs best when Oliver (4.39) is on the field and the pass defense performs best with Bledsoe (7.82).

Here’s my work: