With the 2022 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 2023.
This week we look at one of the most beleaguered units of the ‘22 campaign, the offensive line.
Last year’s offensive line was not good. But before we dive into the stats, let’s recap the year they had.
The ‘21 offensive line loses Mike Maietti to graduation but that’s it. Bence Polgar portals in to replace the departing Maietti and things seem good. Then, projected starting tackle Hyrin White suffers a lower leg injury during offseason workouts and is officially announced to miss spring practices. Then, on the first day of August, Bence Polgar is ruled academically ineligible. And then, Hyrin White’s injury is revealed to be much more serious and the team fears he could miss the entire season. So the Tigers enter the ‘22 campaign with the following starting five:
- Javon Foster - Xavier Delgado - Connor Tollison - Connor Wood - Zeke Powell
From game one it is apparent that the line does not have the usual push that they were able to maintain in ‘21. They get manhandled by K-State and then FCS foe Abilene Christian holds them to a 37% success rate on the ground and even getting a sack of Brady Cook in.
Then Powell is lost for the year against Auburn. Wood slides over to tackle, Mitchell Walters slots in at guard, and it doesn’t get better. Delgado misses a game, Luke Griffin gets a spot start, and it doesn’t get better. Armand Membou squeezes into a #9 jersey and plays an attached tight end/sixth offensive lineman role to help the right side of the line on outside zone and the results don’t change. Connor Wood misses a game so Membou takes the tackle position and E.J. Ndoma-Ogar comes in at guard. EJNO impresses but is injured after 70 snaps as a starter so back comes Walters. Walters struggles with penalties so Wood goes back to guard and Membou takes over at tackle. Then Tollison and Wood get injured against Wake Forest and the line ends up with these five gentleman:
- Javon Foster - Xavier Delgado - Drake Heismeyer - Mitchell Walters - Armand Membou
That’s a lot of unexpected juggling for a group that should have only had to replace one guy! Injuries happen to everyone so it’s certainly not an excuse but Mizzou thought they had plugged the one need they had, lost that plug, and the fallout rippled across the line, even before injuries kicked in. I love Connor Tollison’s game and hope he can be great but starting a 287 pound freshman against SEC defenses is typically not going to work. The depth that was worth replacing the starters was too light and too young, and the older beefier guys were not quality replacements. Marcus Johnson is a good offensive line coach but he was dealt a crappy hand this year and the magic ran out.
I put this in my Revisiting 2022’s “Count the ‘Ifs’” piece and I’ll put it here again - Missouri’s offensive line was pretty decent until this past year:
- 2020 (Powell-Delgado-Maietti-Cook-Borom): 44.8% opportunity rate/60.0% power success rate/18.4% stuff rate/3.6% sack rate/28.6% pressure rate
- 2021 (Foster-Delgado-Maietti-Wood-White): 52.2% opportunity rate/74.2% power success rate/18.3% stuff rate/3.8% sack rate/23.4% pressure rate
- 2022 (Foster-Delgado-Tollison-Wood-Membou): 48.3% opportunity rate/59.5% power success rate/17.4% stuff rate/5.9% sack rate/22.8% pressure rate
Zeke Powell was a very late addition to the ‘20 recruiting class, committing in late July before the COVID season began. However, he started game one of the Drinkwitz era against Alabama and was mostly unnoticeable (which is a good thing!). He wound up starting eight games that year before being relegated to a rotational piece in ‘21. However, with the loss of Hyrin White, Powell once again stepped up and played fine as Mizzou’s starting right tackle before getting injured. His contributions to the team and willingness to do what was asked of him by this staff should absolutely be commended.
Connor Wood was an FCS call up for the ‘21 season, eventually wrestling away the role of starting guard. He was a versatile piece that could play either tackle or guard but always seemed to thrive as a guard...but, like Powell, was called upon to provide more than just his preferred skill set. Wood is why the transfer portal is good for Mizzou: find overlooked guys who have proven their worth elsewhere and bring them in to fill in depth and challenge for starting snaps.
Bobby Lawrence was a scholarship add by Barry Odom when his philosophy was to simply recruit the biggest linemen you could find, while Richard Taylor was a walk-on who earned a scholarship under Drinkwitz. Lawrence saw a few starts but struggled with injuries, while Taylor’s work ethic and dedication to the team earned him a free college tuition. Both were valuable depth pieces who decided to call it a career at the end of the ‘22 season.
At this time last year I said the quality of Missouri’s offensive line was the quantity of dudes it could choose from. Turns out, the options weren’t nearly as numerous as I thought. Drinkwitz and Johnson trusted, essentially, six dudes to go out and eat snaps, while they were willing to plug in a Walters or a Griffin in emergency situations. So now we get the super fun question: what is the worth of returning a ton of experience from a bad unit?
Javon Foster and Xavier Delgado have been stalwarts on the left side of the line, entering their third year playing next to each other. Foster had a tremendous ‘21 campaign but seemed to regress last year, despite still claiming the crown of one of the top ten returning tackles in college football according to PFF. Delgado is a serviceable guard who has proven to be the rung in a ladder match that no one can beat. He’s fine in most situations but you’d like to see a strength or some growth in areas; oddly enough, he’s basically been the same caliber of guy since he stepped on campus...and yet no other guard has been good enough to beat him out. He’s nice to have but you also hope a youngster can beat him out.
Connor Tollison was a dude who impressed from the moment he stepped foot on campus but wasn’t quite physically ready to take over as starting center. He seems to have the mental aspect down - calling protections, being the captain of the line, etc. - but would be frequently overwhelmed when going up against beefier defensive lines. E.J. Ndoma-Ogar would probably have been a starting guard for the rest of the year had he not been injured against Kentucky; he showed a lot of flash and potential in the few snaps we saw him on the field and could be the favorite to nab a spot. His backup, Mitchell Walters, is a gigantic 6’8” golem on the interior but struggled with holding and false starts, one of which robbed a potential touchdown from the Georgia 1-yard line against the national champs. I think his skillset is better used on the outside, but then again, I thought Armand Membou would be a better fit as a guard and he was a noticeable upgrade at right tackle as the year wore on. Luke Griffin, Ma’Kyi Lee, and Drake Heismeyer were clear “break glass in case of emergency” guys who hardly saw the field; Heismeyer, though, had 71 snaps at center in the bowl game. Valen Erickson, Tristan Wilson, and Curtis Peagler all spent their redshirt year in the “gun club”, cutting out the “baby fat” and packing on “good” weight and getting used to SEC football in hopes that they can start pushing the guys ahead of them and making it into the rotation. The only question for Bence Polgar is whether he is finally eligible or not. We’ve heard nothing to the contrary so far so it’s a good bet he’ll get significant opportunities to obtain a starting spot.
Besides quarterback, offensive line is one of the hardest positions to project out of high school, simply because high school boys are not done growing yet and modern athletic training can do wonders in building dudes up to whatever they need to be. It always feels like 2-star offensive line recruits are the ones that punch way above their recruiting rank and make it on all-conference teams and get drafted in the NFL.
Marcellus Johnson is hoping to follow Mike Maietti as “2-star transfer that rocks as a Tiger”. Johnson is a bit of a mixed bag: he’s been a starter for Eastern Michigan for the past three years and has logged over 2,000 snaps at right tackle. However, he allowed more pressures on the quarterback last year than any Missouri offensive allowed last year...but is also a PFF darling. I have no clue how his game translates to the SEC or how he’ll work in the scheme, but you don’t bring in a heavily experienced left tackle and not play him for the lone year he has left.
Logan Reichert is the first blue-chip offensive lineman to sign with Missouri since A.J. Harris in 2015. If you want a good laugh and get stars in your eyes, go watch any of his game film; he’s gigantic and he destroys dudes on every snap, it’s great.
He isn’t the best pass protector in the world, however, which was why his ranking dropped over the last year. There are rumors that he might play inside as a guard or, of course, wander over to a swing tackle, but those conversations are future problems. There is no doubt he is good and can be great but it’s tough to expect a freshman - even a highly ranked one - to come on to the line and play immediately. His development and usage will be a fun story to follow.
Brandon Solis was an addition two days before early signing day. A 3-star prospect out of Tennessee powerhouse Lipscomb Academy, Solis was a decent tackle on a really good team (that lost their head coach to UAB, I might add). You always need prepared depth at offensive line as we painfully found out last year, but there’s no rush to get him on the field soon. We’ll check in two years from now to see where he matches up.
- Prediction: The starters against South Dakota will be Foster-Delgado-Polgar-Membou-Johnson
- Bold Prediction: Tristan Wilson and Valen Erickson earn significant snaps
- HOT TAKE: Armand Membou makes a permanent move to tight end/tackle hybrid to help with blocking and accidentally transforms into one of the best tight ends in the country.