Following what many are calling the “best season in Missouri history”, ShowMeMizzou.com continues with position reviews by taking a look at the Tigers’ offensive line.
After a 2012 season in which Missouri’s offensive line was decimated by injuries, the Tigers’ offensive line in 2013 remained relatively unscathed. Four of Missouri’s offensive linemen, senior left tackle Justin Britt, sophomore center Evan Boehm, sophomore right guard Connor McGovern, and junior right tackle Mitch Morse, each started all 14 games for the Tigers. At left guard, senior Max Copeland played in 13 games, and made 12 starts, while junior Anthony Gatti, who played in 11 games for Missouri, started 2 games.
Britt played the best of his career, and he improved throughout the season. There wasn’t much leakage from the edge on the QB’s blind side all season, and Britt neutralized the best that the SEC had to throw at him. Late in the season, I talked to Britt about the improvement in his play. He credited staying healthy, and going up against true freshman DE Charles Harris on a daily basis, as the primary factors in his improved play. He said that he hadn’t played anyone all year that was as good as the Missouri DEs, and he was particularly referring to Harris, who he went up against daily during the season.
Britt always had the athleticism to be this good, but injuries, and being moved around from position to position on the offensive line, had contributed to the delay in his reaching this level of play. During his time at Missouri, Britt played every position along the offense line, and in his 5th year, he played left tackle as well as we’ve seen at Mizzou in a long time. If he can remain healthy, he’ll play on Sundays.
Following the 2012 season, Evan Boehm went to the coaches and told them that he wanted to play center. They had been thinking about asking him to do so, and in the spring, Boehm began the transition from left guard to center. By the middle of fall camp, Boehm was looking like he had always been a center, and the sophomore had taken over the role of the leader of his position group, as well. While Britt received All-SEC recognition, Boehm was nearly just as deserving. Boehm’s successful move to center, along with significant progress in his overall development, were key components of Missouri’s offensive turn-around in 2013.
Another key component of Missouri’s offensive success in 2013 was the emergence and development of the guy line up just off of Boehm’s right shoulder. Entering last spring, it was evident that sophomore Connor McGovern had made tremendous strides during the off-season, and during the spring, he quickly claimed the starting right guard position for the Tigers. His play during 2013 was as important a development to Missouri’s success on the field as that of nearly any young player on the team. He solidified the right guard position, and the side-by-side combo of McGovern and Boehm provided Missouri with top-shelf offensive line play in the SEC. On most Saturdays, they were dominant, and that opened things up for Missouri to have one of the most balanced and prolific offenses in the country. It can hardly be overstated how well the two sophomores played, nor the impact that they had on the overall success of Missouri’s offense in 2013.
In 2012, Mitch Morse had migrated from center to guard, to right tackle. By the spring of 2013, the junior had settled in at right tackle, where he continued to improve throughout the year. Morse really improved during the season, another testament to staying healthy and going up against Missouri’s all-freshmen scout team defensive line on a daily basis. Morse was very good against the weaker competition, but overall, he was not as dominant throughout the season as Missouri’s top three offensive linemen. He demonstrated good feet and mobility, and he was very good when he had to pull, or get down field on screens. But, he wasn’t as strong, or as solid in his technique against the stronger and more athletic defensive ends. That’s not to say that Morse didn’t play well. He did. He was good enough to be considered at least average among SEC right tackles, and he was an integral part of one of the better offensive lines in the conference.
Left guard was the one position along Missouri’s offensive line where one guy did not make every start. Senior Max Copeland held tenuously onto the starting position throughout the spring and into fall camp. Even into the early part of the season, Copeland was splitting game reps with junior Anthony Gatti. An injury forced Copeland to the sideline at Indiana, as Gatti started Missouri’s final two non-conference games. But an injury to Gatti had Copeland back in the starting line-up to begin conference play. And, Copeland elevated his play sufficiently that he never relinquished the starting job the remainder of the season. In fact, Copeland only occasionally left the field during the second half of the season.
Gatti played a significant role in splitting reps with Copeland at left guard. During his oft-injured Missouri career, Gatti has played right and left tackle, but after playing at left guard, he told me that he thought guard was a better position for him, especially after several knee injuries have robbed him of some of his lateral quickness. He played well, and but for an additional setback due to injury, he may have ended up hanging onto that starting job. In late September, as Britt really began to elevate his play, Gatti was lined up off of Britt’s right shoulder, and playing as well as I’ve ever seen him play. There was virtually no leakage on the left side, as Britt and Gatti formed a wall, and the Tigers’ offense was dominant.
Other offensive linemen saw action for Missouri in 2013, including late-game situations, as well as on special teams and in special formations. Sophomore Mitch L. Hall played in 13 games for Missouri, and sophomore Brad McNulty saw action in 10 games for the Tigers. Officially, Hall was the second-team right guard behind McGovern, and McNulty was the back-up to Boehm at center.
In addition, sophomore Taylor Chappell, who officially backed up Morse at right tackle, played in 4 games for the Tigers. Red-shirt freshman Jordan Williams, who spent most of the season backing up Britt at left tackle, played in 3 games in 2013. And, junior Stephen Carberry played in 2 games for the 2013 Missouri Tigers.
But, nearly every meaningful snap in 2013 was played by Missouri’s top 6 offensive linemen, and they played well, came together as a unit, and got better throughout the season, which allowed Missouri to win 12 games for just the second time in school history, and which paved the way for Missouri to post a 6-2 record against teams that won at least 8 games on the season.