The forgotten stars: Missouri's interior defensive line
Shane Ray and Markus Golden — the two undisputed stars of the Missouri Tigers defense.
And while Missouri’s pass rush is often heralded as one of the best, if not the best, in college football, the interior portion of the defensive line is no slouch either.
Ray and Golden will play a huge role on Saturday against Alabama, but with how the Crimson Tide likes to run the football, we better get acquainted with some of the Tigers’ biggest (literally) players on the defense — the tackles.
Matt Hoch, Lucas Vincent, Harold Brantley and Josh Augusta are the players responsible for containing that vaunted Alabama rushing attack tomorrow.
The four of them average out around 6-foot-3, 297-pounds and they’ll need every bit of their size to eat up the space in the trenches against the Crimson Tide.
Fortunately for Missouri fans, this group has done a more than acceptable job at doing just that against SEC opponents this season.
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In fact, no one has been better. Against eight SEC opponents in 2014, Missouri averaged a conference-best 115.0 rushing yards per game and just 3.1 yards per carry.
With a run defense like that, Missouri is hard to beat, and it’s the most underrated aspect of what makes the Tigers’ defense so tough to score on. According to SBNation’s Ian Boyd and Bill Connelly, the true value of this group is revealed through its success in stopping the run without having to blitz.
They have combined to form a third leg of a rush that has been one of the nation’s best with almost no blitzing. Mizzou linebackers have combined for just 1.5 sacks. When you don’t have to blitz, you can drop seven defenders into pass coverage. And when your linebackers excel in run defense, you have an all-around strong D.
Run defense will dictate who wins the SEC Championship this weekend, which should be no surprise since the SEC is often considered a line of scrimmage league.
In Missouri’s 10 wins this season, the Tigers have allowed just 106.6 rushing yards per game and only 3.1 yards per carry.
But those two teams — Georgia and Indiana — that beat Missouri? A much different story.
225.5 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry.
So if Alabama wins tomorrow, it’ll likely be due to Yeldon and Henry running wild. But for the Tigers to win, it’ll have to be the complete opposite — and the numbers prove that.
Alabama only lost one game this season, but its season certainly wasn’t dominating.
And in those games that were either close wins for the Crimson Tide or a loss, the secret was a lack of success in the running game.
For Missouri, the magic number will be to keep Yeldon and Henry under four yards per carry.
In Alabama’s games where it averaged under four yards per carry, Nick Saban’s team is still 3-1, but the margin of victory is razor-thin. Those three wins by Alabama were decided by seven points or less in each game.
If the Tigers can keep Alabama under four yards per carry, there’s a good chance Missouri will be competitive in this game for all 60 minutes and could very likely steal the conference championship from the No. 1 ranked team in the nation.
So while the pass rushers of Missouri have been the Tigers’ stars this season, it’ll be the hogmollies in the middle of Missouri’s defensive line that’ll need to be the stars in the Georgia Dome.