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Mizzou needs more from its linebackers next to Nick Bolton

Nick Bolton has lived up to every expectation early in the season. But the Tigers are still searching for answers at the linebacker position next to him.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri’s defense was supposed to be the strength of the team, the lifeblood of the season. It didn’t feel that way at times on Saturday at Tennessee.

The Volunteers shredded the Tigers defense to the tune of 40 carries for 206 yards and three touchdowns... through the first three quarters of the game.

That’s not going to work moving forward. It has to get better. And if the volume numbers don’t tell the story, the efficiency numbers certainly do. Our stats guru Nate Edwards broke it down further in his Beyond the Box Score analysis.

“They had a rushing success rate of 53.2% and got at least 4-yards on 48.9% of their carries. That’s absurd. In 2019, neither Wyoming, Kentucky, nor Georgia - Missouri’s worst games against the run - came close to that level of success and opportunity rates.”

So what went wrong? A little bit of everything, frankly. You have to start by giving a lot of credit to Tennessee’s offensive line. They were remarkable. But there’s blame to hand out, too. The Tigers’ defensive line didn’t create enough penetration, and the linebackers next to Nick Bolton didn’t hold up their end of the deal.

Tennessee’s first 20-yard run of the game came on the Vols’ second touchdown of the game. Tennessee pulls its left tackle to kick out the Tigers’ edge defender, Stacy Brown. It’s hard to know the exact responsibilities for the linebackers on the play, but Cameron Wilkins gets sucked inside and the running back is able to bounce outside as a result. The center and right guard make quick work of Kobie Whiteside which allows the right guard to get just enough of Bolton to prevent him from making the tackle.

The seas part and Eric Gray is able to waltz into the end zone untouched.

On another explosive run later in the game, the Tigers’ defensive line isn’t able to create any penetration, the left tackle gets his hands on Devin Nicholson and Bolton is forced to make a tackle from the back side of the play 11 yards down the field.

The last play I’ll share is another explosive run that was also a result of an offensive lineman getting to the Tigers’ play-side linebacker, Wilkins.

Isaiah McGuire gets sucked inside, the Tennessee right guard is able to make his way to the second level and Wilkins is unable to shed the block. This all creates a wide open running lane before Ty Chandler before he’s tackled in the secondary by Martez Manuel.

There is plenty of blame to distribute and credit to hand out for the way Tennessee was able to run all over the Tigers on Saturday.

Tennessee’s offensive line was fantastic. Missouri’s defensive line didn’t create negative plays with penetration, the Tigers’ linebackers weren’t able to shed blocks often enough & there were too many missed tackles. All of that is true.

But the Tigers are going to need more from the linebackers next to Nick Bolton for this to be fixed moving forward. We knew going into the season that defensive end was going to be thin. The secondary was always going to be a strength. Bolton was expected to be a star and has lived up to those expectations.

The Tigers are going to need someone to step up next to Bolton if they’re going to be successful, especially with matchups against LSU, Florida, Kentucky and Georgia coming up in four of the next five games.