Tradition doesn’t graduate… or at least that’s what a bumper sticker on my way into work read this morning. But, this is true in the case of the Missouri Tigers rotation on the defensive line.
Which, could be detrimental news for No. 11 Florida on Saturday.
While Florida has done a better job keeping Will Grier upright in 2015 (10 sacks allowed), that hasn’t been the case recently against Mizzou.
In 2013, Florida surrendered 29 sacks throughout the season, six of which came to the Tigers in a 36-17 loss in The Swamp, which prompted Mizzou’s first-ever SEC East title run.
Things went even further south for Florida last October, with the Gators getting blasted 42-13 despite limiting Mizzou to 119 yards of total offense and holding the Tiger offense to just 14 points.
But again Florida’s offensive line failed them, allowing Mizzou to rack up another six sacks, leading to four turnovers that would result in 24 Tiger points.
Keep in mind first-year Florida coach Jim McElwain inherited just four starters on the offensive side of the ball and just one of them was on the offensive line. The other four (D.J. Humphries, Chaz Green, Max Garcia and Trenton Brown) were all selected in the NFL Draft during the spring.
If that unit, who combined to make 66 starts entering last year’s game, couldn’t protect either quarterbacks Treon Harris or Jeff Driskel, why should we expect anything different with three sophomores attempting to keep a redshirt freshman’s jersey clean?
On the other hand, Mizzou defensive line guru Craig Kuligowski’s work has been unrivaled recently.
“Coach Kool’s” Twitter handle, @LetsMeetAtTheQB, is a reflection of what his units have done at an insanely high level recently; Mizzou’s 98.5 sacks since the start of 2013 is the fourth-highest total in the nation.
And, the guy that helped develop first round picks like Justin Smith, Sheldon Richardson, Aldon Smith, as well as recent SEC standouts Michael Sam and Shane Ray, has two more defensive ends that have wreaked havoc through five games.
Meet Charles Harris and Walter Brady.
Harris, a redshirt sophomore from Kansas City, is tied for the SEC East lead in tackles for loss (9.5), including three sacks and a team-high four quarterback hurries. Brady, a redshirt freshman, has been opposing offensive tackles’ worst nightmare, racking up a team-high five sacks. That number leads the SEC East and trails only Texas A&M standout and future first round pick Myles Garrett.
Brady is getting better each week, logging at least one sack in each of his last three games.
The Tigers are tied for third in sacks (13), but the constant duress opposing quarterbacks are facing has allowed Mizzou to pick off seven passes, which is tied for tops in the league.
Despite losing noted defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, a familiar face in Mizzou alum Barry Odom has gotten an inexperienced defensive unit to play at an elite level, allowing just 263.6 yards of total offense per game (leads the SEC) and holding all five opponents to 21 points or less. The Tigers 12 points per game allowed leads the SEC and is seventh nationally.
After spending much of 2014 amongst the league’s most inept offensively, the Gators have put it together under McElwain, with the bulk of the production coming off the hand of Grier.
The redshirt freshman has played like a seasoned vet through five games, completing 67 percent of his passes and logging just three interceptions, including the clinic he put on last Saturday against Ole Miss, passing for 271 yards and four touchdowns while having just five incompletions.
But he’s gotten little help from a running game that is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. That cannot happen against a Mizzou defense giving up just 2.9 yards per carry and has let to allow a 100-yard rusher this season, thanks to the interior play of Josh Augusta and heralded freshman Terry Beckner Jr.
Basically, a one-dimensional Florida offense leads to obvious passing downs which puts an inexperienced quarterback in a bad position against a defense that thrives in those situations.
Few expected this game to carry as much meaning as it does now, but if Mizzou can pull out the win for the third time in a row, Tigers put themselves in position to make another run at the SEC East title.
— Missouri Locker Room (@MoLockerRoom) September 27, 2015