Offense is just sexier and more fun to talk about. If we didn't know that before the last season or two of Missouri football, we definitely know now. When Missouri finished 2014 by winning six games in a row, the primary story line was the Tigers' resurgent offense. But the Tigers only produced even 6 yards per play just once in that six-game span. Aside from the run game's performance against Texas A&M, there was never a truly awesome performance in the bunch.
In Missouri's 24-10 win over South Carolina on Saturday, the obvious headline involved Drew Lock. The secondary headline was probably something to the effect of "Mizzou's run game didn't stink!"
By the third headline, we might get to something regarding the fact that Missouri held South Carolina to 10 points and 4.7 yards per play and punshed nearly every Gamecock mistake.
That's life as a defensive player, I guess. It's nothing new. Still, Missouri's defense was once again promising yesterday. The Tigers struggled at times with Lorenzo Nunez's running ability, but he's going to succeed with his legs against quite a few teams in his career. Nunez had 11 non-sack carries for 88 yards and bailed himself out of trouble on third downs on a few different occasions.
But Nunez is still a freshman quarterback, and Missouri made him look like one. Nunez ended up completing a solid 15 of 24 passes, and Pharoh Cooper was his normal terrifying self (10 targets, 9 catches, 102 yards). But the Tigers sacked Nunez four times and picked him off three times, and including a few attempts by backup Perry Orth, passes not to Cooper went just 8-for-19 for 84 yards.
Oh yeah, and South Carolina running backs carried 17 times for all of 45 yards. Shon Carson, averaging 6.6 yards per carry heading into Saturday morning's game, had eight carries for five yards.
Because Steve Spurrier is a good offensive coach, and because he has some clear assets in Cooper, tight end Jerell Adams, and Nunez's legs, the Gamecocks were able to move the chains and create scoring chances.
But Mizzou's defensive line was awesome once again, and Kentrell Brothers (showing no effects of last week's scary ankle/knee injury) and Michael Scherer were everywhere -- combined: 6 solo tackles, 10 assists, 2.5 tackles for loss.
We've come to expect that from Brothers and Scherer to some degree (and Donavin Newsom had three assisted tackles and a half-sack as well), but the line's performance was vital. South Carolina simply couldn't get any sort of push between the tackles. Josh Augusta was a boulder, and Rickey Hatley had his name called a few times. Josh Moore made a nice play near the line, A.J. Logan responded well to more snaps, and ends Charles Harris and Walter Brady were strong in pursuit.
Let's write that a different way. [Junior] was a boulder, and [junior] had his name called a few times. [Freshman] made a nice play near the line, [sophomore] responded well to more snaps, and ends [sophomore] and [redshirt freshman] were strong in pursuit.
Marcell Frazier [sophomore] also had a sack, and Nate Howard [true freshman] had a QB hurry and made a nice pursuit play downfield.
And of course, I didn't write almost guaranteed freshman All-American Terry Beckner Jr.'s name in that paragraph. He was ejected 20 minutes in because of what I'll diplomatically call a controversial targeting penalty. And with Beckner on the bench near injured, redshirting junior star Harold Brantley, Missouri didn't seem to miss a beat.
Brady is now on pace for 19.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks, if projected over 13 games (and yes, ensuring that 13th game will still take a little work). Aldon Smith as a redshirt freshman in 2009: 19.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks. And Brady has been splitting snaps with Frazer. Goodness.
We've seen some breakdowns. The ends didn't always handle the zone read properly, crashing down and opening up a running lane on the outside for Nunez. And we saw quite a few missed tackles against Kentucky. But with the inexperience involved here, this line is so much further along than it has any reason to be. And while Drew Lock and the aforementioned not-awful run game stole the headlines, this game was won by the defense. Nunez's life was quite a bit more hellish than Lock's; that made the difference.
This might be defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski's most impressive performance yet.