Better or worse? Previewing Mizzou’s defense in 2022
Mizzou’s defense got off to a horrendous start in 2021. The Tigers couldn’t stop the run at all and floundered against Tennessee and other top offensive teams.
But there’s a new leader on that side of the ball heading into 2022. Blake Baker is the new defensive coordinator, replacing Steve Wilks, who left for a job on the Carolina Panthers’ staff.
So, will the Tigers be better or worse on defense this fall? Well, let’s take a look at some of the numbers from 2021:
- Total defense: 434.7 yards per game (13th in SEC)
- Scoring defense: 33.8 points per game (13th in SEC)
- Run defense: 227.9 yards per game (14th in SEC)
- Pass defense: 206.8 yards per game (5th in SEC)
- Sacks: 29 (tied for 9th in SEC)
Yikes. Even that respectable finish in pass defense had more to do with the fact that teams were running all over the Tigers than it did with anything the Mizzou defense was doing right.
The good news? That means there’s plenty of room to improve this fall! It’ll be hard for Baker to lead a worse overall defense than the Tigers fielded last season.
So, let’s break down whether the Mizzou defense will be better or worse in some key areas in 2021:
Pressuring the QB
Isaiah McGuire was a breakout star for the Tigers last year, leading the team with 6 sacks. That was necessary, as 2020 star Trajan Jeffcoat had a slow start to the 2021 campaign. Though he finished strong, he only had 3.5 sacks last season.
Both guys are back this season. And both are dangerous enough to force extra attention from offensive lines. That frees up a blitzing safety like Martez Manuel (4.5 sacks in 2021) to make some plays in the backfield.
We’ll discuss some of the defensive line additions in the next section, but when it comes to rushing the passer, keep an eye on incoming freshman DJ Wesolak, too. He could make an immediate impact this fall.
Finishing with more than 29 sacks this year won’t necessarily be easy, but if Jeffcoat bounces back to his 2020 form and McGuire continues to build on the momentum he had last year, the Tigers will have 2 solid pass rushers to work with.
I’m not going to go as far as to say the Tigers will have a good run defense by any stretch of the imagination, but can they improve from the No. 124 (out of 130) run defense in the FBS and 3rd-worst run defense in the Power 5?
I certainly would hope so.
Yes, losing Blaze Alldredge, last year’s leading tackler, will hurt. But, the Tigers did shore up their defensive tackle position through the portal. Jayden Jernigan from Oklahoma State should be a key player up the middle of the defense. Mizzou also landed Kristian Williams from Oregon, Tyrone Hopper from North Carolina, Josh Landry from Baylor and Ian Mathews from Auburn to bolster the defensive line depth.
Excluding Alldredge, Mizzou returns its next 7 leading tacklers from last season, led by tackling machine Martez Manuel. He’s listed as a safety but can come up into the box as an extra linebacker when needed.
The defense will be relying on Florida transfer LB Ty’Ron Hopper to pick up a lot of Alldredge’s production, but he should have more help in front of him along the defensive line to free him up to make plays.
Again, this won’t be a great run defense by any means, but No. 124 in the country? Mizzou should fare much better than that this year. If not, it’s a failure on the part of the coaching staff.
I think the depth chart looks pretty good in the secondary. Yes, losing Tulsa transfer CBs Allie Green IV and Akayleb Evans to the NFL hurts, but Mizzou has some intriguing players all across the secondary.
It all starts with Manuel. I’ve mentioned how the do-it-all safety is effective as a pass rusher and a run stopper. Well, he’s also a ballhawk. He had 1 interception and 3 pass breakups in 2021.
Manuel plays the “star” position for the Tigers, with Jaylon Carlies and Clemson transfer Joseph Charleston slated to start in the 2 safety spots. Carlies was a breakout star, finishing 3rd on the team with 67 tackles and leading Mizzou with 4 interceptions.
Kris Abrams-Draine is getting legitimate first-round draft buzz ahead of the 2022 season, and he’ll start at 1 of the 2 corner positions. The other job figures to go to Ennis Rakestraw Jr., who showed flashes of brilliance in 2020. He had a down year in 2021, but if he bounces back and realizes his true potential, this has all the makings of a strong secondary.
The ceiling for this unit is a top-5 pass defense in the SEC. They finished No. 5 last year, but if the run defense is better like I think it will be, teams will take to the air more often against the Tigers in 2022. This group should be able to hold its own.
Grant McKinniss handled most of the punting duties in 2021. He wasn’t spectacular as the Tigers finished 13th in the SEC by averaging 41.2 yards per punt.
This year, the job will likely go to redshirt freshman Jack Stonehouse, who was on the roster last year and didn’t push McKinniss for playing time. He could develop into a solid punter, but that could take some time.
Backup kicker Sean Koetting is another option. He punted 6 times, averaging 46.7 yards per boot, in 2021. The punter battle will be something to watch during fall camp.
No, I don’t like that the Tigers will be on their 3rd defensive coordinator in 3 years in 2022, but there is plenty to like about this defense this fall. Drinkwitz has done well in the transfer portal and some major contributors are back.
If some of the talented freshmen can make even small contributions, it won’t be hard to improve on some of last year’s abysmal numbers.
The secondary has the chance to be a strength of this team. The defensive line could be as good as it has been since the recent D-Line U days. The linebacking corps has talent, but it lacks depth once again.
Still, there’s plenty of reason for hope when it comes to Blake Baker’s defense during the 2022 season.