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Eli Drinkwitz has a plan to restore Mizzou’s “D-Line Zou”

Missouri’s become known as a defensive line factory in the last two decades. The name hasn’t changed, but the college production has. What happened?

Tennessee v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

D-Line Zou is a catchy tagline. It’s worked as a branding mechanism for the Tigers. And it had one heck of an ambassador in Markus Golden back in the day.

But the slogan hasn’t quite lived up to the hype in recent years.

That’s not to suggest Mizzou hasn’t produced some quality pro prospects along the defensive line. The Tigers certainly have. But what happened to the production?

Missouri had a defensive end finish with at least seven sacks in an individual season in eight of the 10 years from 2008 and 2017.

All of Mizzou’s defensive ends combined had four sacks last year, and 6.5 sacks in 2018. Quite the fall from grace, to say the least.

Mizzou D-Line Production (2008-2019)

Year Defensive Ends w/ 7+ Sacks (Sacks) Pass Down Sack Rate Ranking
Year Defensive Ends w/ 7+ Sacks (Sacks) Pass Down Sack Rate Ranking
2008 Stryker Sulak (10.5) N/A
2009 Aldon Smith (11.5) N/A
2010 Brad Madison (7.5) N/A
2011 None N/A
2012 None N/A
2013 Michael Sam (10) & Kony Ealy (9) 54th
2014 Shane Ray (14.5) & Markus Golden (8) 18th
2015 Charles Harris (7) & Walter Brady (7) 33rd
2016 Charles Harris (9) & Marcell Frazier (8.5) 29th
2017 Marcell Frazier (7) 65th
2018 None 121st
2019 None 101st

For Mizzou’s defense to get back to where it was in the early portion of the decade, the defensive ends must pick up the slack.

Finishing last season with a total of four sacks by defensive ends is obscene. Going into the following season with no clear options to improve the position is even more frightening.

I wish I had an answer for how the Tigers can get back to their previous heights at the position in the upcoming season. There aren’t many good ones. The most obvious opportunity to do so is if former 4-star Columbia product Tre’ Williams makes the leap so many have been waiting for. It’s also possible the former East Mississippi Community College (aka Last Chance U) product Sci Martin Jr. makes a jump.

It’s hard to expect either of those to take place, though.

The hope is in the future.

Five of Missouri’s 19 commitments for the 2021 recruiting class are listed as defensive ends. Two of those five are 4-star defensive ends.

If Travion Ford and Kyran Montgomery both retain their 4-star status at the end of this recruiting cycle, it will be the first time the Tigers signed multiple 4-star defensive ends in a recruiting class in the Rivals era.

Recruiting rankings aren’t the end-all be-all. Not every 4-star player will work out, just like not every 2-star player is destined to be a 5-year backup. But in the aggregate, they matter.

Eli Drinkwitz has shown a propensity early in his tenure at Missouri to plug holes when necessary. He did it with multiple graduate transfers at wide receiver going into this season, and he’s already started adding talent to the edge for 2021.

For the Tigers to get back to “D-Line Zou,” they need to get back to “D-End U.” That might not take place in 2020. Here’s to hoping they get back on track for 2021.