Going into Game One against Louisiana Tech, Tiger fans were unsure about how the defense would fare under Blake Baker, the 3rd defensive coordinator in three years. In the season prior, the Missouri defense was abysmal, which may be an understatement. The run defense kept the Tigers out of numerous games and it made it a near improbable task to stay close with teams who had a competent offensive line. Therefore, it’s safe to say that Tiger fans were crossing their fingers for a noticeable change. Lucky for them, they got it.
With all eyes on the Missouri defense, the unit did not disappoint. Louisiana Tech was virtually non-existent in the run game, with 22 attempted carries for a measly 11 yards. This means that the Bulldogs couldn’t even manage to average one yard on the ground. The Bulldogs’ top rusher of the game was Marquis Crosby, who ran for 23 yards on 7 carries, which is an average of 3.3. Simply put, the Tiger run defense was unfazed and was quite a noticeable improvement in comparison to prior seasons.
So, what made the Tigers’ run defense as successful as it was? Well, most notably, the defensive line depth, plus the tremendous play of Ty’Ron Hopper, the factor that should be vocalized the most. Although an under-the-radar answer would be Martez Manuel and Daylan Carnell’s contributions to the “STAR” position.
While neither Carnell nor Manuel lit up the stat sheet, just the presence of each within the box helped tremendously when it was needed. Last season, Steve Wilks opted to play six in the box, while Baker opts to use seven. Instead of Baker using his fifth DB as a slot corner, Baker chooses to use his as a safety/linebacker hybrid. This results in added size, plus an extra body to clog up holes, which is exactly what this defense needs. Manuel finished the game with three tackles, while Carnell finished with two and a highlight TFL. Carnell read a man in motion perfectly and followed a jet sweep to a tee. Carnell used all of 6’2, 218 pound frame to lunge at the ball carrier’s lower body, resulting in a huge tackle for loss. Manuel and Carnell both did a solid job blitzing as well, consistently forcing Matthew Downing to get rid of the ball sooner than he would’ve intended.
Manuel and Carnell have both shown briefly that the position is in good hands, so Missouri fans should feel slightly more confident compared to last season. Missouri will have a much more challenging test in week two, facing off against Deuce Vaughn, possibly the best running back in the country. Vaughn ran for 1,000+ yards last season, and he just ran for 126 yards on 18 carries vs South Dakota. While the performance against LA Tech warrants some optimism, it’s safe to analyze what the entire defense is after the war against the Wildcats.