Tiger 2013 Review: Defensive Line

Following the Missouri Tigers fantastic 12-2 season and top 5 final ranking for 2013,ShowMeMizzou.com takes a look back on the 2013 season, position by position, beginning with Missouri's award-winning defensive line.

Missouri’s 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl was a fitting conclusion to the 2013 season for the 12-2 Tigers, and it gave Coach Pinkel 102 wins as Missouri’s head coach, moving him ahead of Don Faurot on the school’s career wins list, and making Gary Pinkel the winningest coach in Missouri history.

ShowMeMizzou.com takes a look back on the 2013 season, position by position, beginning with Missouri’s award-winning defensive line.

Missouri began the 2013 season with five-man rotations at defensive end and at defensive tackle. The decision was made near the end of August that freshman DT Josh Augusta would play as part of that five-man rotation, as the Tigers began the season with junior Matt Hoch manning one starting DT job, and RSF Harold Brantley and junior Lucas Vincent as co-starters at the other DT spot. Senior Marvin Foster began the season as Hoch’s back-up, and Augusta, who had arrived at Missouri just a day or two before fall camp started, began the season regularly playing a limited number of plays.

Hoch made 13 starts, missing the fourth game of the season due to a foot injury that kept him from practicing for much of the remainder of the season. Despite not being able to practice, he was an anchor in the middle, and finished the season with 41 total tackles, including 4 tackles-for-loss and 3 sacks. He was also credited with 1 pass-break-up and 3 QB hurries, as well as 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery.

Vincent played in all 14 games, making 9 starts, and finished with 34 tackles, including 5 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks, to go along with 4 QBHs, 1 PBU, and 1 forced fumble. I think Vincent got better during the season, and he played the best football of his Missouri career during the second half of the season.

Brantley played in all 14 games, and he made 6 starts for the Tigers. On the season, he made 30 tackles, including 5 TFLs, and he was credited with 2 QBHs, 3 PBUs, and a fumble recovery. Brantley is another player who really improved throughout the season. Against Ole Miss, Coach Pinkel called Brantley’s number on fourth down, as the nimble and fleet-footed lineman took a direct snap on a fake punt and rushed for 26 yards and a first down.

Foster played in each of Missouri’s first 9 games before he suffered a season-ending injury. He finished the season with 8 tackles, including 0.5 TFL, and he was credited with 1 QBH. Foster continued to provide leadership, even after his career-ending injury.

Augusta is another player who really improved throughout the season. At one point near mid-season, as Augusta was seeing more and more playing time, I had noticed that the freshman was frequently being double-teamed, and he was still able to push the pocket back into the backfield. I asked Missouri Defensive Line Coach Craig Kuligowski how well he thought Augusta was playing?

“He’s playing well,” admitted Coach Kul. “But, he’s not anywhere near as good as he’s going to be!”

Toward the end of the season, Augusta admitted to me that he was just starting to get into shape. Augusta’s playing time increased throughout the season, and after Foster went down, Augusta played more and more as regular part of Missouri's four-man rotation at DT. He finished the season with 9 tackles, including 3 TFLs, 2 sacks, and a blocked kick.

Almost immediately following the Cotton Bowl, junior DE Kony Ealy announced that he will forego his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. He’s projected to be drafted in the first round. A month or so ago, Ealy told me that much of the credit for the success that he and the rest of Missouri’s defensive ends enjoyed during 2013 should go to Mizzou’s defensive tackles for the way that they pushed the pocket and took on the double-teams which often left Ealy and the rest of Missouri’s DEs singled up or unblocked.

Of course, Ealy himself often occupied that DT role in passing situations, so he knows what he’s talking about. As Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel pointed out, Ealy sacrificed some of his statistical numbers, such as sacks, for the team, by moving inside on passing downs to take on those double teams. Still, Ealy, who started all 14 games for Missouri, finished the season with 43 tackles, including 14.5 TFLs, and 9.5 sacks. He was also credited with 14 QBHs, 6 PBUs, 3 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and an interception that he returned 49 yards for a TD at Indiana. Ealy graduated in December, and he leaves Missouri a grown man. He was named to the AP All-SEC First Team, and he’ll receive even more recognition in late April. He will be missed.

With his game-clinching sack-and-strip in the final minute of the Cotton Bowl, senior DE Michael Sam finished the season with 11.5 sacks to tie Aldon Smith’s 2009 single-season Mizzou record. Sam started all 14 games for the Tigers, and he finished the season with 48 tackles, including 19 TFLs, and 11.5 sacks. He was also credited with 9 QBHs, 2 PBUs, 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery that he returned 21 yards for a TD. Sam was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and Missouri’s first unanimous All-American in over 50 years.

For most of the season, sophomore Shane Ray was listed as a co-starter with Sam at one DE spot. Ray played regularly in all 14 games, and although he never started a game, he played a starter’s share of the plays. Ray was often on the field when Ealy moved inside, and it was Ray’s sack-and-strip that set up Sam’s scoop-and-score at Georgia. Ray finished the season with 39 tackles, including 9 TFLs, and 4.5 sacks. And, he was credited with 11 QBHs, 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery which he returned 73 yards for a TD to seal the win over Oklahoma State. Ray was the fourth of Missouri's four-man DE rotation to score a TD this season. Ray is as highly motivated and as hard working as anyone on the team, and I fully expect the sophomore to continue to get better.

Junior Markus Golden began the season as Missouri’s number five defensive end. He regularly played a limited number of snaps. But, Golden’s productivity on the field demanded a larger role in the rotation, and for the final three-quarters of the season, Golden, Ray, Ealy, and Sam provided a four-man rotation for Missouri at the defensive end position, without question the best defensive end rotation in the country. Despite limited playing time in Missouri’s earlier games, Golden finished the season with 55 tackles, including 13 TFLs, and 6.5 sacks. He was also credited with 8 QBHs, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble, and an interception that he returned 70 yards for a TD against Toledo. By season’s end, Golden was playing nearly as much as the other DEs. But for the first month or so of the season, Golden played considerably less, which makes his season's productivity even more outstanding. It could be argued that on a per-play basis, Golden was by far Missouri’s most-productive defensive lineman. Like Ray, Golden brings some serious speed to the position. There’s no question that Golden improved throughout the season, but there’s still plenty of room for him to improve heading into next season.

Senior Brayden Burnett began the season as part of Missouri’s DE rotation, but Golden’s ascension meant less and less playing time for Burnett on defense. But the senior was an integral part of Missouri’s special teams, and he occasionally got in a few snaps at DE. On the season, Burnett made 12 tackles, including 1 sack.

RSF Rickey Hatley played in 7 games, mostly on special teams, and he made 1 tackle. Late in the season, Hatley, who now weighs more than 280 pounds, moved inside to provide Mizzou with some depth at defensive tackle. It remains to be seen if he’ll stay on the inside going forward, or if he’ll return to playing defensive end.

Another RSF, DT Evan Winston, played in the season opener and made 1 tackle.

In addition to Augusta, one of only two freshmen to have played for Missouri in 2013, Missouri’s freshmen class featured three more defensive tackles, A.J. Logan, DeQuinton Osborne, and Nate Crawford, and two defensive ends, Charles Harris and Marcus Loud, each of whom took a red-shirt in 2013. That group of five comprised Missouri’s scout team defensive line during the season, and coaches and players alike raved about the quality of that group.

Several of Missouri’s offensive linemen told me that much of their in-season improvement was due to going up against those freshmen defensive linemen on a daily basis. At one point in early November, Justin Britt told me that the scout team defensive line he went up against in practice every day was better than the defensive lines that the Tigers had been playing against in the games. The contribution of the freshmen defensive linemen did not go unnoticed.

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