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Is D-line Zou back at Missouri?

After it shined in Mizzou’s early tenure in the SEC, the defensive line fell off in production under the Odom and Drinkwitz years. Now, we may have a unit worthy of the hallowed Mizzou moniker.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Sam, Markus Golden, Shane Ray, Charles Harris, Sheldon Richardson, etc. The list of names of elite defensive linemen to come through Mizzou is extensive, but since Harris in 2017, no D-lineman has been touted as an elite NFL prospect.

In 2022, Missouri may have three of those guys.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the year, the Tigers knew they had a proven commodity in senior defensive end Isaiah McGuire, and that they had a leader in senior defensive tackle Darius Robinson. Outside of that, Trajan Jeffcoat was attempting to mount a bounce back season, and a host of transfers and newcomers filled out the rest of the depth chart.

Case in point: it was a roll of the dice for what this unit was going to be in 2022 after they struggled to get to the quarterback and defend the run last season.

Those concerns have been put to bed in recent weeks.

McGuire leads the team with five sacks on the season, highlighted by a two-sack performance against South Carolina yesterday. He’s slowly working his way up draft boards, as pro scouts love his 6’4”, 275 lb. frame that’s complimented by an arsenal of lethal pass-rushing moves.

D-Rob, as he’s known throughout the program, has been exactly what this team thought he would be as well. Robinson eats up blockers on the inside and still has been able to record 16 tackles and a sack this season. His biggest impact, however, is his leadership. Every press conference, Robinson has the biggest grin on his face. Every practice, he’s one of the loudest members of the defense.

Trajan Jeffcoat has had a solid season off the edge, but the improved depth of this line has taken a lot of the pressure off of him.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For instance, Jacksonville State transfer DJ Coleman has really begun to jump off the screen in recent games. The graduate student is another potential draftee from this defense with his rangy 6’5” frame. He’s produced as well, recording 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks this season after he was an All-American with the Gamecocks at the FCS level in 2021.

The transfer portal was kind to the D-line in more ways than just Coleman though. Oregon transfer Kristian Williams has been a game-wrecker on the inside, as he has three TFLs and two tipped passes that have resulted in interceptions. His experience and endless motor have complimented Robinson well on the interior of the line.

Oklahoma State transfer Jayden Jernigan and Independence C.C. product Realus George (the latter of which has been here since 2021) have provided quality depth for the defensive line as well.

Every Tiger fan has noticed the stark improvement of this defensive line in 2022. After 2021 was characterized by poor run defense and a lacking pass rush, the script has been completely flipped. The Tiger D-line has won every battle in the trenches this season (save for K-State), including “whipping” the Georgia offensive line according to Kirby Smart.

NCAA Football: Missouri at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow, though, yesterday was likely their most complete performance. Rattler faced constant pressure in the backfield, and they held Gamecock star running back MarShawn Lloyd to just 34 yards on the ground. The penetration in the backfield completely stoned the South Carolina offense, and it effectively won this game for the Tigers. When all is said and done, this defensive line is going to have plenty of names to watch on Sundays, carrying on the “D-line Zou” moniker.

But I am just one guy who follows this team and you all have seen the games just as much as I have. So here’s the question for you all to ponder: how does this 2022 defensive line compared to the feared “D-Line Zou” units of 2013, 2014, and 2015?