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You all remember last year’s defense. Yes, it was bad. This year’s defense is NOT bad! In fact, it’s good! So, we asked you, the dear readers of this site, which defensive unit has been the biggest surprise so far this season, and you voted...
I’m a little surprised by the answer of the Defensive Line. Do you remember last year's defense? Do you remember how it was bad? I’m sure you remember the defensive line getting eliminated within 0.1 seconds of the ball being snapped. So maybe that’s why you voted that way.
Maybe you have vivid memories of the linebackers over pursuing and/or trying to get around their linemen brethren being pushed into their face. And part of it was the secondary, too, as they were constantly called on to tackle free runners in the open field. 87th best defense against the run, 89th against the pass, 99th in standard downs, 113th in passing downs, terrible tackle accuracy...it was bad. We remember.
So, when we hit the offseason and the portal-ing started happening we all could figure out what was going to happen: bring in a ton of defensive linemen, find a bona fide weakside linebacker, and then maybe a few senior corners to add to the rotation.
Six defensive linemen, one linebacker, one safety...no corners in 2022’s portal activity. I expected the Defensive Line to improve. With Ty’Ron Hopper, I expected the linebackers to improve. But Missouri added no experienced corners via the portal and lost a few corners to the transfer portal. I’ll be frank: I was slightly concerned about that development.
Then we got into the season and, wow, was that concern misplaced!
With Ennis Rakestraw, Jr. back from injury and Kris Abrams-Draine now playing at the outside corner spot, Missouri has its best cornerback tandem since... when? Aarion Maxey-Penton and Kenya Dennis in 2015? Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland in 2011? Marcus King and A.J. Kincade in 2005? And Missouri’s passing defense has thrived: 19th against the pass, 18th in net yards per attempt, 22nd in passing downs, and 28th in defensive back havoc rate (to name a few).
On top of that, Missouri’s top three safeties all provide a different - but equally effective - approach to the position that helps cover up any missteps by the aforementioned corner tandem. Jaylon Carlies, Martez Manuel, and Joseph Charleston are able to provide a violent assist against the run, effective over-the-top pass coverage, and - oh by the way - they also run five deep with Daylan Carnell and Jalani Williams providing sparks off the bench.
We knew that the defensive line was going to get better simply because there was almost no way it could get worse. We knew the linebackers were going to be good because Chad Bailey was going through a renaissance, and we saw firsthand what Ty’Ron Hopper could do. We had no idea how a young cornerback rotation was going to hold for the defensive secondary and their performance, to me, has unquestionably been the biggest surprise of the year.