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Missouri faces elite FCS defense, linebackers in UT Martin

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The Skyhawks allowed a stifling 14.3 points and 273.8 yards per game in 2017.

UT Martin v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Don’t freak out too much from the headline. Drew Lock could still easily throw for over 200 yards and a couple touchdowns in the first half of Saturday’s contest against UT Martin.

However, the Skyhawks boast a defense that’s one of the best in the Football Championship Subdivision. They return six starters from last season’s squad that allowed just 14.3 points and 273.8 yards per game — ranking them fourth and sixth in FCS, respectively.

Senior middle linebacker James Gilleylen, a second-team All-OVC selection a year ago, is the unquestioned leader of UT Martin’s defense. He racked up 88 tackles, two sacks and an interception a season ago.

Just like teammate Ladarius Galloway, another 2017 second-team All-OVC selection, Gilleylen played fairly well in UT Martin’s game against Mississippi last year. The middle linebacker tallied five tackles and a sack in the Skyhawks’ 22-point loss to the Rebels.

Joined by seniors Kevin Prather Jr. and Garrett Wall, Gilleylen leads a group of stud linebackers. The group has played together all last year, while Prather and Gilleylen have started at least 10 games together since their freshman season in 2015.

All three were named to 2018 preseason All-OVC teams — Gilleylen to the first, Prather to the second and Wall to the third. Prather notched 77 tackles (10.0 for loss, 1.0 sacks), while Wall had 66 tackles (8.5 for loss, 4.0 sacks) alongside Gilleylen in 2017.

UT Martin’s talented trio of linebackers will surely make Missouri running backs Demarea Crockett and Larry Rountree III’s jobs a little bit tougher, but thankfully, the Tigers boast an elite offensive line to counter the Skyhawks’ linebackers.

Aside from Gilleylen, Prather and Wall, UT Martin’s defense is fairly inexperienced. Lock should be able to pick apart the Skyhawks secondary with ease. They simply don’t have the size or skill to be able to guard Missouri’s receiving weapons in Albert Okuwegbunam, Emanuel Hall, Johnathon Johnson and Nate Brown.

It’ll be easy pickings for Missouri’s offense Saturday. Expect the Tigers to put up gaudy numbers en route to an easy victory Week 1.