The strength of the Mizzou defense will be speed and versatility. That’s why they use a hybrid LB/Safety as a third linebacker. With the speed of the hybrid “linebacker” and the versatility of the All-American linebacker Nick Bolton it makes for a very versatile and dangerous line backing crew, regardless of who takes over the third spot. They can impact the game in many ways with aforementioned versatility, but for this defense to succeed and possibly even grow a little, these linebackers are going to have to add to the pass rush as well.
This is easier said than done.
The job of every coach is to analyze what his or her team does well, and what they don’t. Then after gathering that information, their job is to put them in the best position to succeed while highlighting their strengths and masking their flaws. That’s exactly what Ryan Walters is doing. He knows that this team struggles sacking the quarterback. So, he’s using his linebackers at a high rate in order to create pressure, and unfortunately, it occasionally comes at a price. That price is chunk plays and gashes on the ground.
To his credit, they do a great job shifting, disguising coverages, and doing all of the things they can, pre-snap, to make the quarterback uncomfortable. And hey, they actually will get to the QB occasionally, but as the stats indicate (3.5 sacks by LB’s in 19’), they aren’t getting home enough. At least not enough to warrant the level of blitzing that they do.
Also, in combination with being a poor pass rushing team, this team was also pretty undisciplined in the back end of the secondary at times, and it hurt the Tigers when they couldn’t get home. A whole lot of yards were gained by opponents who had one on ones on the outside, and they made catches or drew penalties. The obvious solution would be to simply “get more pass rush,” but at this point that can’t be counted on. Pressure is going to have to be manufactured by this staff, because they can’t allow opposing teams 4+ seconds to go through reads. They could try and scheme better matchups on the blitz (LB vs RB, rather than LB vs OL), but that’s a really intricate process to implement on a weekly basis. The point is, the coaching staff can only scheme so much.
This line backing core has the potential to be the best unit on the team for the Tigers. They’re led by an All-American, and the other guys have some really nice things that they bring to the table. There’s a good mix of size, experience and athleticism that allows this defense to have options in how they play. That versatility again in 2020 is going to be asked to supply reinforcements to the ailing pass rush, and they have to get home, or this could be a very long season.