With the 2021 season officially over, it’s time to break down the performance of the team position by position. We’ll look at the stats for the year, the departing players, new additions, and some predictions for what we’ll see in 2022.
This week we look at one-half of the guys who make up the SEC’s “line of scrimmage” mantra, the offensive line.
I believe that our newly-minted Assistant Director of Player Personnel - and former starting guard - summed up offensive line play accurately:
How did YOU feel about Missouri’s 2021 offensive line? Let’s start with the negatives: they gave up 79 tackles for loss while facing blitzes on 24% of their plays, which is fairly low amount of blitzes on the national level. They allowed runners to get stuffed at (or before) the line of scrimmage 18% of the time, 78th in the nation. And, on average, the line could only get Tiger running backs 2.5 yards of space, 80th in the country. Certainly not awful, but lots of room to improve.
But look at the positives: they gave up only 19 sacks with a quarterback who refused to move from wherever he was standing. Their 3.8% sack rate ranked 12th in the nation while their pressure rate of 23% also ranked 12th in the nation.
Tyler Badie Mizzou’s running backs averaged 4-yards per carry on 52% of their runs, 30th in the country. And the line was able to power their way to a 74% success rate in short-yardage situations, 40th nationally.
Not too shabby in my book! Marcus Johnson had eight guys who he trusted to give more than 100 snaps in the season, but only seven really saw heavy rotation. Ironmen Mike Maietti and Javon Foster played every single snap at center and left tackle, respectively. Xavier Delgado and Case Cook started the season as starters but Cook was lost for the season five games in and Delgado battled injuries before losing his starting-status towards the end of the year. Hyrin White missed a few games but was backed up by do-everything FCS transfer, Connor Wood, who played at both guard spots and right tackle before settling in at right guard. And Luke Griffin - who this site has long held in high esteem - finally started getting starts and significant snaps at the expense of the previously mentioned Delgado. A patchwork seven-man crew was able to not be the best, but also not be the worst. If Johnson can rotate in a few more younger dudes and continue their development this good unit can become an excellent unit in a few years.
Case Cook was a multi-year captain and starter along the offensive line and provided consistency to a line that had a ton of turnover between the Odom and Drinkwitz regimes. Despite his injury early on in the 2021 campaign, he decided to enter the NFL Draft and could quite possibly hear his name called but will certainly get a shot at a roster.
“Jersey” Mike Maietti took advantage of his freebie-COVID-season, determined to build off of his first year in SEC play and make a bowl game. He was rewarded with an All-SEC 1st Team selection and a 2nd Team AP All-American with a trip to the Armed Forces Bowl. Mission accomplished! He’s a bit undersized but technically proficient and, like Cook, could very well get a fair shot at making an NFL roster.
The strength of Missouri’s 2022 offensive line will be the copious amount of options to choose from. As of this writing, Hyrin White, Connor Wood, and Zeke Powell will be back for the sixth years of college football at their respective positions. Javon Foster, Xavier Delgado, Bobby Lawrence, and walk-on-turned-scholarship-player Richard Taylor are all fifth-year juniors. Luke Griffin, E.J. Ndoma-Ogar, Drake Heismeyer, and Mitchell Walters are all technically underclassmen that have more than three years of college-level experience. And, of course, multi-position-wunderkind Connor Tollison is getting out of his redshirt year and could conceivably slot anywhere on the interior. Spring practices will be incredibly important at establishing rapport with a core five guys and figure out who plays best and where. From this group it’s easy to envision a Foster-Griffin-Tollison-Wood-White starting five being an effective SEC line. But we haven’t even mentioned the reinforcements yet!
Bence Polgar was Buffalo’s starting center for their 2021 season and also, possibly, a Jedi Knight from the Star Wars prequel trilogy. But most importantly, he is the betting favorite to be Missouri’s starting center in 2022. Obviously he will have to beat out Heismeyer and Tollison for the job, but a.) you don’t bring in transfers expecting them to sit on the bench, and b.) he has a full year of experience already. The MAC is certainly not the SEC, but the fourth-year sophomore has some obvious appeal for one of the most important positions on the football field and will probably be the starter heading into the 2022 campaign.
Jackson State transfer Dylan Spencer should be a familiar name because he committed to Mizzou and actually started a game in the 2020 COVID season. He transferred to Jackson State halfway through the year but never actually played on the team, essentially cashing in his redshirt year in the transition between Columbia, Mo. and Jackson, Ms.. He was good enough to start as a true freshman for the Tigers in 2020 so one would think that he could also see starting snaps in 2022 as well. However, we’ll see if taking a year off from football has any effect on his talents. Keep this in mind as well: he already used his one “free” transfer to leave Missouri for Jackson State, so unless he gets a waiver, he might not be available to play this year. Given the glut of options on the interior of the line, that might not be a terrible thing.
Tristan Wilson, Armand Membou, Valen Erickson, and (maybe) DeShawn Woods: if everything goes well that could quite possibly be four of the starting five offensive line spots in a few years! Not all four are blue-chipper quality (Woods is the lone 4-star) but the hype around each of them is palpable. Wilson is a mauler from Lebanon, Missouri - home of former Tiger and NFL starter Justin Britt - whose high school film is nothing but hilarious 8-second clips of him absolutely brutalizing whatever poor defensive linemen gets in his way. Armand Membou was courted heavily by stalwart offensive line schools like Wisconsin and Iowa, and his technical prowess and genuine mean streak should pay dividends at the college level quickly. Valen Erickson and DeShawn Woods are already SEC-sized and could possibly find their way into the rotation if they can keep their productivity while going against higher competition.
This might be one of the most-hyped batches of offensive linemen recruits Missouri has brought in for a single class and it would be awesome for the long-term health of this offense if they did, indeed, find themselves contributing quickly. However, offensive line is one of the toughest transitions to make between high school and college so if they don’t see snaps early don’t worry about it.
- Prediction: The starters against Louisiana Tech will be Foster-Griffin-Polgar-Wood-White
- Bold Prediction: Tristan Wilson and Armand Membou work their way into the rotation in ‘22
- HOT TAKE: Inspired by Connor Tollison’s incredible coiffure, the entire offensive line decides to grow a mullet, therefore releasing the same hair-powered proficiencies of the 2013 offensive line