Mizzou fans knew Nick Bolton was good. This season hasn’t been a surprise to anyone paying attention. He took the SEC by storm down the stretch of last season. But, my goodness, this kid playing at such a high level right now.
Highest-graded power five LBs— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 28, 2020
1. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame - 82.0
2. Terrel Bernard, Baylor - 81.2
3. Nick Bolton, Missouri - 79.9
4. Grant Morgan, Arkansas - 79.8
5. Jalen Pitre, Baylor - 79.5 pic.twitter.com/8RgrH0Nx31
Bolton is one of the best linebackers in the country. That’s not up for debate. It’s a fact. He’s one of the rare linebackers who plays the run, drops in coverage and rushes the passer at a high level. He’s explosive, he hits opposing ball carriers like a ton of bricks and he has a rare ability to always be around the football.
Those qualities were enough this week to be named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Week. It’s the second time in his career he’s won the award. He certainly deserved it, coming up with seven tackles on Missouri’s 36 defensive snaps, adding the Tigers’ only sack of the day while playing every snap of the game.
Highest-graded SEC defenders in Wk 8— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 26, 2020
1. Malachi Moore, Alabama CB - 87.8
2. Nick Bolton, Missouri LB - 81.0
3. Davonte Robinson, UK CB - 80.6
4. Eli Ricks, LSU CB - 79.8 pic.twitter.com/pqcC0tXaem
Bolton hasn’t been the Tigers’ MVP on the season (that award goes to Connor Bazelak), but he’s been pretty darn close. He does everything. He breaks up passes. He sets the tone for the defense with huge stops on key downs. He provides a boost as a pass rusher for a team who could desperately use it. He has an incredibly high football IQ and seems to be able to diagnose plays before they happen.
Over the last two weeks, Bolton has been involved in some of the more underrated plays of the game that led to back-to-back upsets for the Tigers.
Nick Bolton avoids the rub route, finds the running back & forces what would have been an awkward catch on a 3rd & 5 against LSU. This is a heck of a play. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/BR7EIntzW2— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 30, 2020
It started against LSU midway through the third quarter. LSU led the game 38-31 and faced a key third and five at midfield. The play call worked. It was designed to get running back John Emery into the flat by using a rub route that would knock Bolton off his path to defend the pass.
Bolton wasn’t buying it. He evaded the screen, closed in on Emery quicker than expected, forced an awkward attempt at the catch and ultimately an incompletion. That led to a punt on fourth down, and Missouri scored on its following drive. That play kept the Tigers in the game and potentially kept a score off the board for LSU.
We all remember Joshuah Bledsoe's pass breakup on 4th down to win #Mizzou the LSU game, but let's not forget Nick Bolton forcing 4th down by breaking up a quick pass to Terrace Marshall Jr. pic.twitter.com/ItVdnSmfFd— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 30, 2020
Bolton didn’t stop there. On the key goal line stand, Bolton noticed a formation he saw earlier in the game with Terrace Marshall Jr. lined up as a wing back. When LSU ran this before, Marshall go the ball on a quick arrow route. Bolton must have recognized that and immediately followed Marshall into the flat. He guessed right, and batted down the pass. That play led to the fourth down stop Mizzou fans will remember forever.
Bolton followed up his impressive performance against LSU with an even better game against Kentucky.
Nick Bolton can defend the run, he can defend the pass and he can rush the QB. Enjoy this kid, #Mizzou fans. He's going to be a heck of an NFL linebacker next year. pic.twitter.com/rdUaD9JQs1— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 30, 2020
On third and long late in the first half, Kentucky went to the pass. Ryan Walters dialed up a blitz with a stunt up front that involved Bolton attacking the tackle to give Trajan Jeffcoat a route to loop inside. He executed it to perfection, it freed up Jeffcoat on the interior and ultimately resulted in Terry Wilson running right into Bolton’s arms for the sack.
It wasn’t the only time Wilson saw Bolton in the game. We all remember Larry Rountree III destroying a Kentucky cornerback near the Tigers’ sideline, but Bolton certainly had a nice hit earlier in the game, as well.
Nick Bolton doesn't waste opportunities to lay a big hit when he gets a chance. My goodness. pic.twitter.com/VP0fRktXxw— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 30, 2020
That’s the kind of hit that sets the tone for a team. And it’s the type of hit that Bolton seems to come up with on a more regular basis than any linebacker I can remember in recent Mizzou history. His short area explosiveness is off the charts.
I hope Mizzou fans are enjoying what we’ve been able to see out of Bolton this season. We’ve seen some really impressive linebacker seasons in the last 15 years. Sean Weatherspoon was unbelievable from 2007-2009, Kentrell Brothers was off the charts productive in 2015, Cale Garrett was so much fun to watch the last few years and there are plenty others I didn’t mention.
Weatherspoon was the last Missouri linebacker to earn first team All-Conference honors in back-to-back seasons. If Bolton continues at this pace, he’ll match those honors. He very well could follow in Weatherspoon’s shoes as a future first round pick, too.