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It all starts up front for the Tigers’ offense

Mizzou’s offensive line hit a road block last year leading to a drop in production. Can the unit get back to its previous form?

Troy v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

There’s nothing “sexy” about offensive line play. When we break down a team going into an individual season, we talk about the quarterback, the skill players and we’ll even break down the pass rush.

The offensive line is often times an afterthought. It shouldn’t be.

Look at some of the best teams in the country. They always seem to have a great offensive line. The best power five teams in the country last season in “opportunity rate” (the percentage of carries that gain at least four yards) were Clemson, Oklahoma, Utah and Alabama. Two of those four teams made the College Football Playoff. All four won double-digit games.

This is no coincidence. It all starts up front.

Missouri is no exception to this rule. When the Tigers’ offensive line is at its best, the offense stays on track. When it’s at its worst, well, that’s when things get stuck in the mud.

Football Outsiders’ offensive line data stretches back to 2014. I was able to find data from 2013 via an old Bill Connelly preview post for the ‘14 Cotton Bowl (thanks, Bill).

In that 7-year stretch, the Tigers had an offensive line that ranked among the top 50 in “standard down line yards” (the raw, unadjusted per-carry line yardage for a team on standard downs - first down, second-and-7 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, fourth-and-4 or fewer) three times.

All three of those MU offenses (‘13, ‘17 & ‘18) finished that individual season ranked among the top 20 in points per game.

On the other hand, the Tigers finished the season ranked in the bottom 50 in standard down line yards twice (‘15 & ‘19). Those offenses finished 127th and 93rd in points per game, respectively.

Mizzou Football O-Line Stats 2013-2019

Year Standard Down Line Yards Opportunity Rate Passing Down Sack Rate Points Per Game
Year Standard Down Line Yards Opportunity Rate Passing Down Sack Rate Points Per Game
2019 2.30 (101st) 43.4% (106th) 8.2% (74th) 25.3 (T93rd)
2018 2.93 (8th) 51.9% (20th) 3.8% (10th) 36.6 (18th)
2017 3.59 (2nd) 40.8% (39th) 4.1% (17th) 37.5 (14th)
2016 3.06 (56th) 40.9% (55th) 3.8% (9th) 31.4 (48th)
2015 2.20 (126th) 32.9% (119th) 7.4% (64th) 13.6 (127th)
2014 2.95 (62nd) 41.5% (35th) 6.0% (40th) 27.8 (73rd)
2013 7th 12th 94th 39.1 (13th)

We all remember how special that 2013 offense was. It’s no surprise that production came behind arguably the best Missouri offensive line in modern team history.

It’s hard to know what to expect from the Tigers’ offensive line this season. Everyone expected it to be a strength going into last season, and it somehow produced the second least productive unit we’ve seen since 2013. Drinkwitz lost three starters from that underperforming unit... Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

It’s hard to know much about how the 2020 Missouri offense will perform. That unit includes a new coach, a new scheme and a large number of new starters.

One thing we do know: it all starts up front.