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2020 Missouri Football Position Previews: Defensive Ends

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Missouri hasn’t had a fearsome pass rush since 2016. So...is this year the year that changes?

Florida v Missouri

The reason Gary Pinkel found long-term success at Mizzou had to do with several contributions. The first was the full embrace of the spread offense in 2005. The second was Dr. Pat Ivey being able to transform overlooked yet athletic as hell recruits and turn them into fearsome wrecking balls that played well above their high school analysis. And the third was bringing in Craig Kuligowski and maintaining his service while he unleashed hell on opposing quarterbacks, crafting the reputation of #D-LineZou.

And even with a pair of 2-stars and a slew of true freshmen populating his 2015 line, Coach Kul was able to finish his career with an impressive curtain call — certainly not his best ever — but the most impressive with the talent at hand. That talent was enough to buoy the Odom regime’s pass rush a little bit, but the drop in coaching acumen was noticeable.

Since Mizzou’s pass rush reputation was powered by the defensive end position in particular, let’s take a look at Missouri’s defensive end sack production over the past five years:

  • 2015 DE sacks: 16
  • 2016 DE sacks: 18
  • 2017 DE sacks: 11
  • 2018 DE sacks: 4
  • 2019 DE sacks: 4

Yucky! Charles Harris and Marcell Frazier were able to carry the torch for an extra year, but the diminishing returns were quiet stark once Harris was drafted.

Here’s another way to look at it: The Godfather Bill Connelly used adjusted sack rate (sacks+intentional grounding) in the past but recently moved to straight up sack rate; here’s what those number look like per year:

2015 adjusted sack rate: 103.7 - 56th (5.5% standard downs, 9.1% passing downs)

2016 adjusted sack rate: 105.4 - 56th (4.7% standard downs, 9.3% passing downs)

2017 adjusted sack rate: 86.4 - 92nd (5.8% standard downs, 7.6% passing downs)

2018 sack rate: 4.9% - 108th

2019 sack rate: 5.4% - 94th

More of the same: Mizzou was almost identical from ‘15 to ‘16, but lost all semblance of a pass rush in ‘17. Cool.

So why do I bring this up? Just to pick at old scabs? I mean...yeah, kind of. But also to show you that WOW, it will be hard for this young crop of defensive ends to do any worse in a 5-year period than their predecessors have done. So let’s take a look at the guys who will be looking to reclaim the lost glory of Missouri’s pass rushing reputation.

The Starters

SEMO v Missouri
Tre Williams
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Tre Williams & Chris Turner

Tre Williams & Chris Turner’s Career Stats

I want to get one of my biases out of the way quickly: while I’m totally cool with taking on projects to build (i.e. the Pinkel method), I have yet to be impressed with Chris Turner. I don’t know how he continues to be on the field because he’s not disruptive and isn’t effective in stopping the run. It’s not his fault, per se: the Odom staff was terrible at finding and developing defensive end talent, so Turner kept getting thrown out there as the best option, but he is in no way a starting-caliber end in the SEC. But here we are, once again hearing that he’s having a great camp. Which is great! It’s just I’d rather the production follow the fall hype.

Regardless, he and Williams will be paired up at the beginning of the year at the starting end positions. Neither has been impressive although Williams has been more productive than Turner. Let’s hope their experience allows them to have a fourth-year leap, because at this point, Stryker Sulak had more sacks in 2008 alone than these two have had in their combined careers.

The Backups

Troy v Missouri
Jatorian Hansford
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Sci Martin, Jr. & Jatorian Hansford

Sci Martin, Jr. & Jatorian Hansford’s Career Stats

I had high expectations for Hansford to “make the leap” this year before we found out that he’d be missing most of fall camp with a shoulder injury. He’s had other injury issues in his time in Columbia and hasn’t really shown enough to earn starter-level snaps. But the upside is still there in theory, and this would be a good year to show what he can do in his third year in Ryan Walters’ system.

Sci Martin did a lot in his time at Last Chance U’s East Mississippi CC, but hasn’t done anything of note at either LSU or Missouri. He was also a name mentioned by both coaches and players as having a great fall camp, but until we see it on the field it’s just talk. He is certainly a candidate for sticking around another year thanks to the lifting of eligibility restrictions for 2020, but he’ll need to actually do something with that time for us to feel good about. Keep an eye on him when he comes up in the rotation: he’s a prime candidate to make an impact, and if he doesn’t do it now, it’ probably won’t be happening.

The Freshmen

Johnny Walker
247Sports.com

Z’Core Brooks & Johnny Walker

Brooks saw action in one game and didn’t log any stats, so he and Walker are starting, essentially, from the same spot. However, Brooks has a year on campus and in the system while Walker will be transitioning from a 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-2-5 defensive end in his first year as a collegian. As I’ve mentioned in every position preview so far, there’s a solid chance COVID forces these two to see the field, but in a perfect world, Walker would get 4 games and redshirt while Brooks comes in as a situational piece (worst case scenario) or breaks through and earns starter-level snaps (best case scenario).

What would dumb Nate do?

Play Williams at the weakside end position and then bump Akial Byers outside from his defensive tackle position.

What’s actually going to happen?

Turner and Williams will be the starters, Hansford pushes for starts halfway through the year, Martin/Brooks/Walker rotate in occasionally.