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Charting the Gradual Disappearance of D-Line ‘Zou

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There was a time, not so long ago, when Missouri had one of the most fearsome and productive defensive lines in the FBS.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Missouri
Whatever happened to D-Line ‘Zou? Maybe Jordan Elliott can help bring it back.
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

You all remember 2014, don’t you?

That year in which Missouri regularly trotted out three defensive ends (Shane Ray, Charles Harris and Markus Golden) who would eventually go in the top 60 picks of the NFL Draft and had a complement of experienced, productive options including Harold Brantley, Lucas Vincent, Matt Hoch and Josh Augusta on the interior as well?

During that magical season, a defensive lineman recorded a tackle — counting solos as 1.0 and assists as 0.5 — every 15.6 snaps, a tackle for loss every 52.1, a sack every 99.0 and a quarterback hurry every 108.4.

This core played no small part in helping the Tigers finish 23rd in the FBS in yards allowed per game, 16th in yards per play, 17th in yards per pass attempt against, 24th in yards per rush against, 11th in sacks per game and 13th in tackles for loss per game.

Wasn’t that fun?

Now fast forward to 2018. The Tigers’ defensive linemen averaged a tackle every 21.3 snaps, a TFL every 84.9, sack every 217.6 and a hurry every 133.9. Nationally, they ranked 62nd in yards allowed per game, 68th in yards per play, 92nd in yards per pass attempt, 32nd in yards per rush, 71st in sacks per game and 80th in tackles for loss per game.

So it’s not a matter of the havoc-causing plays getting redistributed to the back two levels of the defense. They’re just not happening anymore.

Let’s take a look at the gradual decline, shall we?

Defensive Line

Snaps per Tackle
2018: 21.3
2017: 23.4
2016: 21.1
2015: 18.2
2014: 15.6
2013: 16.1

Snaps per Tackle for Loss
2018: 84.9
2017: 68.4
2016: 74.5
2015: 52.2
2014: 52.1
2013: 56.3

Snaps per Sack
2018: 217.6
2017: 151.9
2016: 136.8
2015: 163.2
2014: 99.0
2013: 105.4

Snaps per Hurry
2018: 133.9
2017: 135.6
2016: 125.4
2015: 108.8
2014: 108.4
2013: 80.1

———

Ends

Snaps per Tackle
2018: 23.9
2017: 22.5
2016: 19.2
2015: 17.0
2014: 13.9
2013: 13.9

Snaps per Tackle for Loss
2018: 123.9
2017: 63.5
2016: 77.9
2015: 42.9
2014: 42.5
2013: 40.8

Snaps per Sack
2018: 276.3
2017: 135.7
2016: 103.8
2015: 104.6
2014: 73.6
2013: 69.8

Snaps per Hurry
2018: 128.3
2017: 98.4
2016: 103.8
2015: 76.0
2014: 89.6
2013: 54.9

———

Tackles

Snaps per Tackle
2018: 19.0
2017: 24.6
2016: 23.5
2015: 19.8
2014: 17.8
2013: 20.0

Snaps per Tackle for Loss
2018: 63.6
2017: 74.7
2016: 71.5
2015: 67.7
2014: 68.4
2013: 106.2

Snaps per Sack
2018: 177.4
2017: 174.2
2016: 199.4
2015: 397.8
2014: 155.9
2013: 286.0

Snaps per Hurry
2018: 140.4
2017: 228.6
2016: 157.8
2015: 198.9
2014: 139.2
2013: 185.9


The silver lining? The defensive tackle play actually made a pretty appreciable improvement last year. Its activity levels were right about in line with those halcyon days of 2014 and, in the tackles for loss category, were actually better.

Yes, losing Terry Beckner and Walter Palmore from that group hurts, but Jordan Elliott was no slouch, recording a tackle every 18.7 snaps, TFL every 46.8, sack every 124.7 and hurry every 187.0 — all but the hurry mark were better than the team interior lineman average.

Kobie Whiteside was adequate in limited duty last season, and Chris Daniels is an intriguing addition as well. Bottom line: the tackles should be good to go, even with three regular rotational players graduated.

What’s missing is the heat off the edge. Across the board, the Tigers’ ends were about 72 percent worse in snaps per tackle, 204 percent in snaps per TFL, 296 percent worse in snaps per sack and 134 percent worse in snaps per hurry than the 2013-14 ends.

There’s not much relief in sight, either, unless holdovers Chris Turner, Akial Byers, Tre Williams (maybe?), Trajan Jeffcoat and Jatorian Hansford make some significant strides.

Or maybe Sci Martin can shake things up a little bit.

Here’s the work, if you wanted to see it: