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Secondary could be a primary concern for the 2018 Missouri Tigers

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Kaleb Prewett’s limbo hangs heavy over a group that has taken its lumps.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Missouri
Missouri’s defense functioned around 35 percent better on a per-play basis with Kaleb Prewett at safety last year.
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Senior safety Kaleb Prewett is not on the spring roster. He is still indefinitely suspended for doing whatever the thing was that he did in January to get suspended.

If he never gets back in Barry Odom’s good graces, the Tigers will have to find their way without both of the guys — Prewett and departed senior Anthony Sherrils — who stabilized the back end of the defense in the back half of last season.

And the defense happened to run particularly well with Prewett playing safety last season.

Let’s step back for a moment. Thanks to my basketball plus-minus calculating, lineups have taken up an unbelievable proportion of my brain lately.

So much so that I went back through all the football snaps last year, found every combination of four defensive backs the Tigers used and saw how effective each of them were.

I counted non-kneel defensive snaps that came out of defensive sets with at least four defensive backs. So 4-3, 3-4, 3-3-5, Nickel and Dime.

Prewett played safety (not Nickel linebacker) on 468 of those 949 plays, or 49.3 percent.

On those 468 plays, the Missouri defense gave up 3.40 yards a rush, 6.35 yards a pass, 4.83 yards a play and a quarterback rating of 111.25.

On the 481 plays without Prewett at the back, the Tigers gave up 4.69 yards a rush, 8.76 yards a pass, 6.49 yards a play and a quarterback rating of 153.03.

Those are all in the neighborhood of 34-38 percent worse than when Prewett was at the back.

Here are the top-5 most-used secondary combinations Missouri used last season. You’ll notice something about them:

DeMarkus Acy-Kaleb Prewett-Anthony Sherrils-Adam Sparks
Run: 144 for 551, 3 TD, fumble recovery
Pass: 79-of-160, 1030 yards, 5 TD, 6 INT
Sack: 11 for -65
Total: 315 for 1516 (4.81 per)

Acy-Sherrils-Thomas Wilson-Logan Cheadle
Run: 69 for 326, 7 TD
Pass: 33-of-42, 388 yards, TD, INT
Sack: 1 for -8
Total: 112 for 706 (6.30 per)

Cheadle-Ronnell Perkins-Wilson-Sparks
Run: 34 for 187, TD
Pass: 15-of-27, 187 yards, TD, INT
Sack: 2 for -15
Total: 63 for 359 (5.70 per)

Acy-Perkins-Wilson-Cheadle
Run: 25 for 257, 2 TD
Pass: 17-of-27, 220 yards, 2 TD
Sack: 2 for -12
Total: 54 for 465 (8.61 per)

Cheadle-Prewett-Sherrils-Sparks
Run: 19 for 77
Pass: 16-of-25, 148 yards, 2 TD
Sack: 4 for -18
Total: 48 for 207 (4.31 per)

So what’s the commonality? None of them are possible this year. All of them have at least one player graduated. Three of them have two.

The most-used lineup with all four players returning: Sparks-Perkins-Jordan Ulmer-Finis Stribling — 3 plays, 5 yards.

Prewett’s absence would make it even worse. He was in 12 of the 38 secondary combinations Missouri used last year.

Now, the individual safeties and corners — and tandems therein...ones that were used a significant amount, at least — and how Missouri’s defense did when they were on the field. Departed players are in italics.

Safeties

Yards per Play Against
Kaleb Prewett: 4.83
Anthony Sherrils: 5.35
Team: 5.67
Jordan Ulmer: 6.04
Thomas Wilson: 6.25
Cam Hilton: 6.31
Ronnell Perkins: 6.60
Anthony Hines: 7.07

Yards per Rush Against
Jordan Ulmer: 3.05
Anthony Sherrils: 3.34
Kaleb Prewett: 3.40
Anthony Hines: 4.00
Team: 4.08
Cam Hilton: 4.45
Thomas Wilson: 5.10
Ronnell Perkins: 5.39

Yards per Pass Against
Kaleb Prewett: 6.35
Anthony Sherrils: 7.51
Team: 7.52
Thomas Wilson: 7.72
Ronnell Perkins: 7.97
Jordan Ulmer: 9.18
Cam Hilton: 10.3
Anthony Hines: 11.2

Top-3 Safety Tandems

Sherrils-Prewett
Run: 168 for 647, 3 TD
Pass: 101-of-196, 1267 yards, 7 TD, 6 INT
Sack: 18 for -95
Total: 382 for 1819 (4.76 per)

Wilson-Perkins
Run: 95 for 641, 5 TD
Pass: 64-of-104, 848 yards, 5 TD, 3 INT
Sack: 6 for -35
Total: 205 for 1454 (7.09 per)

Sherrils-Wilson
Run: 76 for 334, 7 TD
Pass: 34-of-44, 388 yards, TD, INT
Sack: 1 for -8
Total: 121 for 714 (5.90 per)


Cornerbacks

Yards per Play Against
Adam Sparks: 4.93
Jerod Alton: 4.96
Team: 5.67
Finis Stribling: 5.89
DeMarkus Acy: 6.07
Logan Cheadle: 6.25

Yards per Rush Against
Adam Sparks: 3.36
Jerod Alton: 3.72
Team: 4.08
DeMarkus Acy: 4.37
Logan Cheadle: 4.61
Finis Stribling: 5.33

Yards per Rush Against
Jerod Alton: 6.32
Finis Stribling: 6.58
Adam Sparks: 6.69
Team: 7.52
DeMarkus Acy: 8.00
Logan Cheadle: 8.31

Top-3 Cornerback Tandems

Acy-Sparks
Run: 196 for 799, 6 TD
Pass: 109-of-205, 1442 yards, 7 TD, 8 INT
Sack: 13 for -71
Total: 414 for 2170 (5.24 per)

Acy-Cheadle
Run: 142 for 898, 14 TD
Pass: 82-of-114, 1109 yards, 7 TD, 2 INT
Sack: 9 for -54
Total: 265 for 1953 (7.37 per)

Sparks-Cheadle
Run: 78 for 321, 1 TD
Pass: 38-of-62, 358 yards, 3 TD, INT
Sack: 7 for -44
Total: 147 for 635 (4.32 per)


The good news is Missouri has plenty of options to turn to in order to fill the vacancies in these lineups.

If Prewett doesn’t come back, though, the Tigers have a lot more lost quantity — and quality — to replace.

And here’s my work, if you wanted to look into this more: