DeMarkus Acy is one of the key leaders in a secondary that has seen a resurgence of sorts this season.
Prior to last week’s loss to Florida, Missouri had allowed only two opponents to throw for over 200 yards and held three to under 100. Acy, the 2018 All-SEC cornerback, has been a huge part of that. He has 15 total tackles, five pass breakups and a fumble recovery, and outside of the stats, it’s clear opposing quarterbacks have been wary of throwing to his side of the field.
That’s why, after he was ruled out of Missouri’s 24-20 loss to Tennessee on Saturday, you could see just how much of an impact his absence had on the secondary.
Volunteers quarterback Jarrett Guarantano carved up the defense all night, throwing for 415 yards and two touchdowns on 23 for 40 passing. He had seven passes for at least 20 yards in the first half alone, ending the day with nine total. Three different receivers caught for over 100 yards, and Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings had receptions for touchdowns.
“Credit to them No. 1, and then we didn’t play very well against the pass,” head coach Barry Odom said.
Acy’s replacement, Christian Holmes, especially struggled to contain receivers. He was called for pass interference on the first play of the game (the first of four pass interference penalties for him) and continued to get beaten by Callaway the rest of the game.
The lowest point of Holmes’ night? Getting Mossed by Callaway on a 17-yard touchdown with 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
Oh, and that play happened to be the fourth time he was flagged for pass interference. Not even pass interference was enough to help Holmes.
The other starting corner, Jarvis Ware, went down early in the game with an injury, which Odom said has something to do with the head or neck area, which resulted in Adam Sparks coming into the game. He was also flagged for pass interference — though on a ball that seemed uncatchable — and also left the game with an injury early in the fourth quarter.
“Ware goes out early, Acy wasn’t able to play, and that’s unfortunately the injury part of the game,” Odom said. “Put some things on display that we couldn’t get covered up.”
With as depleted as it was, the secondary turned in its worst performance of the season. The unit had been amongst the elite for most of the year, but it didn’t look like the same team Saturday.
“It’s difficult when you’ve got guys, especially like Acy, go down, and Jarvis, it’s always got to be next man up,” safety Khalil Oliver said. “Somebody goes down, somebody’s got to be ready to come up and take their spot and be ready.”
As Oliver said, there has to be that “next man up” mentality when injuries strike.
With both starting cornerbacks out, the next two have to be ready to play. But it didn’t seem like they were. Holmes and Sparks were constantly beat deep, and the safeties didn’t pick up the slack.
It’s easy for players and coaches to say they have more than enough to win with, even when key players go down. They’d like to believe they have enough depth behind their starters that they can overcome whatever injuries occur.
But with Acy gone, a key element of Missouri’s secondary was gone. That’s tough for a team to overcome.
And while the Tigers were giving up 415 passing yards, it clearly showed.
“They were able to pass on us,” safety Tyree Gillespie said. “Plain and simple, they were just able to pass on us.”