Missouri enters Saturday’s season opener having forced at least one turnover in 44 straight games, the longest active streak in the country. When asked about the streak earlier this week, Coach Pinkel replied, “I wish you wouldn’t have brought that up.”
Generating takeaways requires a team effort, and creating havoc up front is a big part of that equation. Earlier this week, ShowMeMizzou.com spoke with defensive line coach, Craig Kuligowski, and he talked about the components of Missouri’s 2014 defensive line, a unit that he hopes will be able to create a hornet’s nest for opposing quarterbacks.
“We work on takeaways,” explained Coach Kool. “We work on takeaways every single day in practice. We teach them certain techniques to do……………………………………… The more times we can get to the quarterback, the better chance we have of creating a takeaway.”
The Tigers have more experience on the inside, where Coach Kool has 5 defensive tackles listed on the game day Depth Chart, three of whom have extensive experience, and a fourth who last season played increasingly as a true freshman.
“I think we’ve got four guys (at defensive tackle) that we all feel comfortable with,” said Coach Kool. “So, all four of them are going to get a lot pf playing time, depending on how their year goes, and how their production is in the games, in terms of how we look at it. (That) will determine who plays the most. Not only do we have four guys that are capable of starting, but we have four guys that are capable of playing at a very high level. So hopefully, it’s going to be fun to watch.”
Coach Kool said that senior Lucas Vincent is playing the best that he’s played during his time at Missouri. Vincent is trimmed down, and has really improved his quickness, agility, and stamina.
“Harold (Brantley) has become a more mature competitor,” explained Coach Kool. “He’s a kid that’s got his strength, and he’s probably the best he’s ever been. He’s a tough guy. And, he’s doing stuff right on and off the field. So, his trust level with our team and with our coaching staff is very high. Now hopefully, we’ll see some of that on the field.”
Speaking of Josh Augusta, Coach Kool laughed and said that, “God smiled on him”.
“Josh is a tremendous athlete,” explained Coach Kool. “He’s a super athletic kid! The sky is the limit. I mean, the SKY is the limit for him. So, hopefully, we’ll get him there.”
“He’s in the best shape of his life,” said Coach Kool, continuing to speak of Augusta. “He’s physical, and he’s got his strength at a very high level.”
The Tigers also have a four-man rotation at defensive end. Senior Markus Golden played at a high level last season, and this year, he’s providing the kind of emotional leadership that the Tigers haven’t had on the defensive side of the football since Sean Weatherspoon. For the relentless Golden, playing football at Missouri is the realization of his lifelong dream.
“Markus is a very emotional guy, and the players have a lot of respect for him,” explained Coach Kool. “So, when he says something, it means a lot, it means a lot to our guys.”
“Shane (Ray) is a very confident person,” explained Coach Kool, talking about his junior starting defensive end. “So, I think he felt like he should be starting every game since the day he showed up here on campus. So, I think in his mind, and the way he looks at it, he’s just stepping into his natural role. So, I don’t think he looks at it as a pressure situation. I think he looks at it as an opportunity, and a chance to help us win games even more, and to be a bigger piece of the puzzle.”
If there’s an unknown element up front for Coach Kool, it’s the presence of a pair of red-shirt freshmen defensive ends, Charles Harris and Marcus Loud, making their playing debuts on Saturday as the second-stringers at their positions.
Coach Kool indicated that he’s not sure how he’ll split the playing time at defensive end. He suggested that it will be subject to change throughout the season based on how everyone performs.
“It’ll probably be that the two starters will get more plays than the back-ups,” explained Coach Kool. “The two starters will probably get the majority of the plays, and those (red-shirt freshmen) will get into the game and then we’ll see how they do. Probably not fifty-fifty. But it’s a situation where, you know, once those (red-shirt freshmen) are in a game; you know, we’ve seen what they can do, but they’ve got to get on the field. So once we get into a game, we’ll get a better feel for that, how that ratio adjusts.”
I asked Coach Kool to compare Harris and Loud to previous Missouri defensive ends?
“I don’t know that there’s anybody that I would say that those two are just like,” replied Coach Kool. “I really don’t. They both have different strengths…………………………………….. You know, they’re different guys. Kony was faster than Marcus, but Marcus maybe has better change of direction. Charles Harris is like Shane, but he’s not quite as fast, but he’s a little bit bigger. He’s a great kid! I had to chase him out of the weight room yesterday. He was doing too much. I told him to save a little bit for the field. I mean, that kid, nobody’s going to outwork him.”
Kool said that he “hopes” the red-shirt freshmen are going to be real good.
“I sure hope so,” laughed Kool.
In my opinion, he laughs because he knows they're going to be real good.
Coach Kool indicated that sophomore Rickey Hatley will be the fifth man in at both tackle and end.
“Rickey’s got a chance to see the field at end or tackle,” explained Coach Kool. So, he’s kind of our swing guy, and he can play both (positions). So, we definitely have some plans for him. Plus, he’s on multiple special teams…………………………………………… If we have an injury, he’s the first man in.”
Coach Kool said that having this many players in the rotation is all positive.
“There’s no drawback to having a bunch of good players,” said Coach Kool, with a wry smile. “There’s none. There’s no drawback to having a bunch of good players. In fact, the more good players you can have, the better it is for all of us.”
In addition to keeping everyone fresh, Coach Kool pointed out that there's another benefit to having "a bunch of good players".
“There’s also the benefit that it keeps everybody on their toes,” said Coach Kool, speaking of the benefit to everyone of having a lot of good competition. “Because they know you can’t look back. You always got to look forward. So, I think it helps our team compete.”