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Missouri’s defensive line has experienced a bit of a renaissance this season under defensive coordinator Blake Baker’s tutelage. If this season has reminded you of the Craig Kuligowski years at Missouri, well, the numbers back you up. Missouri is finally getting back to an attacking front with an emphasis on creating pressure and making plays behind the line of scrimmage.
The Tigers rank first in the SEC in tackles for loss per game (7.4) and they’re tied for fourth in the conference in sacks per game (2.3), including nine over the past two weeks against South Carolina and Kentucky.
Missouri’s defensive line has contributed 14.5 of the team’s 21 total sacks and 32.5 of the team’s 67 tackles for loss. It’s a return to havoc, and the entire group has stepped up in a big way.
When I was asked this week to write about which defensive lineman has put together the best season, one name in particular came to mind immediately, and it’s the same name that the vast majority of Missouri fans voted for: Isaiah McGuire.
McGuire finished last season with 14 tackles for loss and six sacks. He was one of the rare bright spots on a rotten defense, and the vast majority of his production came in the second half of the season. Something clicked for him, and he’s picked up this season where he left off.
McGuire is up to 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks this season. He’s the first Missouri defensive end to post back-to-back seasons of 10+ TFL and 5+ sacks since Charles Harris (2015 & 2016). The only other Missouri defenders in the past 20 years to match those numbers in back-to-back seasons are Markus Golden (2013 & 2014) and Stryker Sulak (2007 & 2008). McGuire is joining rare company, and that’s saying something given Missouri’s rich history along the defensive line.
Isaiah McGuire has put together one heck of a season for #Mizzou. pic.twitter.com/pKoApoQYWm— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) November 11, 2022
What stands out most about McGuire is his motor. He’s a big, strong athlete with the ability to win from both the interior as well as coming off the edge. I bring that up because it’s a combination of size and motor that reminds me a bit of when Golden was at Missouri. Nobody would accuse Golden of being the most athletic player on the field at any given time, but he had this tenacity about him that would not allow him to be denied. He was eventually going to break through, and that motor has helped him sustain his career beyond his time at Missouri as an eight-year veteran of the NFL. We could see something similar from McGuire down the road.
None of this is to take away from the other defensive linemen. I was too low on DJ Coleman coming into the season. He’s been a rock-solid addition who creates far more pressure than I was expecting. That dude is tough as hell, and he’s been exactly what the doctor ordered for this team against the run. Kristian Williams is the unsung hero of the group. He doesn’t boast the same gaudy numbers as the rest of the defensive line, but he’s constantly taking on blocks to create space and time for his teammates. Darius Robinson is finally experiencing the breakout season I’ve been waiting for since he first stepped on the field in a Missouri uniform.
This is the defensive line we had come to know and love when Missouri was at its peak. Baker has the unit firing on all cylinders. McGuire has been the best of the bunch, but the entirety of this defensive line is finally making life tough for the opposing offensive lines.
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