Last season, Missouri was one of the worst rushing defenses in the entire country. In fact, they were the third worst P5 school, narrowly beating out the likes of Stanford and Kansas. No matter the level of competition, they struggled stopping the run. Whether it be in the season opener against Central Michigan where they gave up 241 or their beatdown at the hands of Tennessee where they gave up 458 rushing yards, Missouri was going to struggle in that aspect of the game.
A large part of that performance came down to the play of the defensive tackles. Far too often, you could find defensive tackles getting driven back, or even jumping out of their gap responsibility. Things changed a bit for the better once Al Davis was promoted and given the role as the interim defensive line coach, but there were still some systemic issues that caused that group to struggle that were beyond coaching.
The biggest issue working against them, was their lack of overall size. I mentioned this earlier this week in our roundtable, but in 2021, Missouri had zero players along their defensive line that weighed over 300 pounds. That may not seem like a very big deal, but when you play in the SEC, and pretty much every offensive line has interior players above 310 pounds... It’s an issue. This isn’t to say that you cannot succeed as an undersized defensive tackle, but for the purposes of controlling gaps in the run game, it helps to have a lot of mass that is hard to move. Missouri just didn’t have that in 2021.
Another issue for Missouri was their inability to rotate in quality depth into the lineup at defensive tackle. Between Mekhi Wingo and Kobie Whiteside, they occupied most of the snaps at DT. Behind them? Realus George and Akial Byers who played a decent amount of snaps to varying results. Of those four players, only one returns.
Reinforcements on the way...
Knowing all of the things that I mentioned above, Missouri went out and addressed this key need by finding some really interesting pieces for not just now, but for the future as well.
At the end of the 2021 season, Missouri absolutely beefed up it’s interior defensive line. They invested in six guys who figure to fight it out at defensive tackle. Three of those six guys (Jernigan, Landry, Williams) are established players who figure to anchor the room as veterans who have been in college for at least three full years. Each of these veterans are transfers from power five schools.
There’s also Auburn transfer, Ian Matthews, who is in year two and will have an opportunity to compete.
They even brought in a pair of true freshman in Marquis Gracial and Jalen Marshall, both over 300 pounds who both are supremely talented for their age. These two freshman are good enough to push for early reps.
I have extremely high hopes for this group. For the first time in a while, Missouri’s D-Tackles will have size, ability and depth. The key issues that bothered this team last season have been addressed and I would say they’ve been addressed well. This staff went out and found dudes who they think can play at the SEC level and they should now be able to anchor a defense that desperately needs them to perform for the defensive unit as a whole to meet expectations.
This defense needs the defensive tackles to be impactful for the defense to improve in the way we all would like it to. Full stop. If they can, the Missouri defense will be surprising people this fall.