We all have that friend who exaggerates everything. A slightly stressful day becomes the worst day ever. A slight delay for an appointment is the single biggest inconvenience he or she could ever overcome. The list of complaints goes on and on and on.
So when they have something sincerely go wrong, the complaints fall on deaf ears.
I hope that’s not happening with Missouri’s defense. I understand we, as a collective Missouri fanbase, can be somewhat fatalistic. We’ve been programmed to believe the other shoe will drop at all times.
This is different. Missouri’s run defense is broken. So broken that it cost a man his job over the weekend. We’re less than halfway through the 2021 season and the Tigers have fired defensive line coach Jethro Franklin. Why would they make such a move?
Well, the Tigers currently rank 130th (out of 130 teams) in rushing yards allowed— 129th in rushing yards per attempt and 128th in rushing touchdowns allowed. Missouri’s defensive line has combined for one sack and three tackles for loss in three games against power five opponents. The Tigers defensive line failed to record a sack or a tackle for loss against either Boston College or Tennessee.
That tends to lead to some firings. It also raises legitimate questions about what lies ahead.
The Tigers’ run defense isn’t getting fixed this year. Maybe they don’t finish as literally the worst run defense in the country, but it won’t surprise anyone if they do.
What about next year? Are reinforcements on the way?
The answer depends on where you look. The Tigers have some exciting young players along the defensive line, in particular. Last year’s recruiting class included 4-star defensive tackle Mekhi Wingo along with 4-star defensive ends Travion Ford and Kyran Montgomery.
We’ve seen Wingo get some opportunities this season. Players typically take a sizable step between years one and two. Ford is slight for a defensive end and might not make a significant difference against the run, but he’s the highest ceiling pass rusher currently on the roster. The player from last year’s class who should give Missouri fans the most hope is Montgomery. The Indianapolis native might have been in line for playing time this year before tearing his ACL at the end of camp. If recovery goes well, he could be a player who factors into the defensive end rotation and makes an impact against both the run and the pass.
The 2022 class could bring more intrigue.
The biggest impact among the Tigers’ current 2022 commits is likely to come from 4-star commit Marquis Gracial. There aren’t any publicly available stats or highlights from his senior year at St. Charles High School, but Gracial’s junior film was as impressive as you’ll see from an in-state defensive tackle. The only comparison that felt up to par was Sheldon Richardson. I know that’s lofty. His film is deserving of that kind of praise.
Gracial isn’t the only defensive lineman with a chance to come in and contribute right away. St. Thomas Aquinas 3-star defensive tackle Jalen Marshall could also fight for early playing time. He’s an incredibly long defensive lineman with the ability to hold up against the run. He doesn’t have the same athleticism and high-level potential as Gracial, but he could fill the Akial Byers role along the defensive line.
The Tigers have some options along the defensive line, and now they’ll have a new coach in charge of getting the most of that talent. That’s encouraging.
The same isn’t true at linebacker. The Tigers were aggressive in the transfer market last offseason and eventually landed Blaze Alldredge. That obviously hasn’t gone as anyone hoped, but Alldredge is getting consistent playing time for a reason. The Tigers simply don’t have much depth at the position. Freshman Dameon Wilson and Zach Lovett are clearly not ready and might not be ready to contribute in 2022, either. Wyoming transfer Chuck Hicks is intriguing, but will he be ready to step in and start right away? The lone linebacker commit in the 2022 class is 3-star Xavier Simmons. Simmons is a fantastic athlete, but his high school film doesn’t look like a player ready to come in and contribute right away.
The Tigers’ run defense is the worst in the country. Talent is on the way to help fix it along the defensive line, but the Tigers’ problem at linebacker doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere without a significant addition or two via the transfer portal.