The Missouri Tigers had one of the best defenses in college football a year ago but are looking to be even better this season.
“That’s the goal,” senior cornerback Aarion Penton said. “We still don’t have any respect, so the goal is just to play hard and compete every time we step between the lines and show the world what we’re about.”
In 2015, the Tigers ranked fifth in the country in scoring defense (allowing 16.2 points per game) and pass defense (169.3 passing yards per game) and sixth in total defense (302 yards per game) and in the Southeastern Conference ranked second in scoring defense and total defense and third in pass defense.
It will certainly be difficult to achieve those kind of results again in 2016, but the Tigers have reasons for optimism under new defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross with seven of 11 starters returning.
“I think we’ve done a lot of things to correct some of the mistakes, some of the holes we were letting up last year,” redshirt senior middle linebacker Michael Scherer said. “I think we have a lot of different schemes we can throw in there, different matchups we can throw in there. We’ve very multiple, I’d say, on defense to where we can match whatever you throw at us. I think with our experience and with the scheme we can be better if we play well.”
Six returning players started all 12 games a year ago: Scherer, Penton, senior defensive tackle Josh Augusta, redshirt senior outside linebacker Donavin Newsom, redshirt junior defensive end Charles Harris and redshirt junior safety Anthony Sherrils.
Redshirt senior Rickey Hatley started seven games at defensive tackle. Sophomore Terry Beckner Jr. started five games at defensive tackle. Marcell Frazier, a redshirt junior, started three games at defensive end.
Additionally, redshirt senior cornerback John Gibson didn’t start any games in 2015 but started five games as a sophomore in 2014.
The defense returns plenty of experience as well as talent.
Harris, a second-team All-SEC selection last season and this preseason, is the centerpiece of the Mizzou defense after his breakout sophomore season in 2015.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end, a potential first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, racked up 56 tackles, including 18.5 for loss, and tied for the team lead with seven sacks in 12 games.
"Charles Harris is playing at a different level than he did last year," Missouri head coach Barry Odom said.
Though the Tigers lost leading tackler Kentrell Brothers to graduation, they return their next five leading tacklers: Scherer (93), Sherrils (64), Newsom (63), Penton (59) and Harris (56).
Missouri will be looking for those players to be even better with new starters stepping in at defensive end (Frazier, redshirt sophomore Spencer Williams or junior Jordan Harold, outside linebacker (redshirt junior Joe Burkett), cornerback (Gibson or redshirt freshman T.J. Warren) and free safety (junior Thomas Wilson). A.J. Logan, a 325-pound redshirt junior, could start at defensive tackle after playing in 12 games as a reserve last season.
“I think guys have grooved themselves into where they’re at,” said Cross, first-year the defensive coordinator. “We’re going to play a lot of guys. We’ve got a starting 11 but we’re going to rotate guys in there. Obviously up front we’ve got what we feel is a two-deep of starters, in that regard, but everywhere else we’re trying to strengthen the backups and make sure that if something happens we’ve got the next man up theory going.”
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