Two keys to the Missouri Tigers' impressive offensive line performances through the first two weeks of the season?
The continuity of the new-look starting five — junior left tackle Tyler Howell, redshirt sophomore left guard Kevin Pendleton, redshirt sophomore center Samson Bailey, redshirt junior right guard Alec Abeln and redshirt sophomore right tackle Paul Adams — that has been together as the first-string group dating back to spring practices.
And those players hearing plenty going into the season about how much the offensive line struggled a year ago and how the OL may be the weak spot for the offense again this season.
“It’s been pretty big,” Adams said of the starting five’s continuity. “It kind of started back in spring ball when we started playing the positions that we are right now. So I think going through summer, doing all the drills we did, as well as just camp in general, I think that that was a huge time for us because we were coming into camp with not many people thinking that we were going to do the things that we’ve been doing now.
“We’ve just been kind of having a little chip on our shoulder from last year, knowing that the things that were not going correctly on offense most of it did have to do with the offensive line. We know what we have to do to not let that happen again.”
The offensive line will have a significant challenge this week when the No. 16 Georgia Bulldogs (2-0) come to town.
The Bulldogs, led by 309-pound sophomore defensive tackle Trenton Thompson (12 tackles, 3.5 for loss, one sack), have recorded three sacks and nine tackles for loss through the first two weeks of the season.
The Missouri offensive line has allowed just one sack through the first two games and paved the way for the offensive’s huge day in the 61-21 win over visiting Eastern Michigan last Saturday — the Tigers totaled 647 yards, including 477 passing yards, and scored seven touchdowns.
Through two games the Missouri offensive line has shown considerable improvement from a year ago, even though they returned just one player, Abeln, with starting experience. That’s allowed sophomore quarterback Drew Lock to post back-to-back career highs in passing yardage.
“I think collectively, working together, those guys have embraced the opportunity to be a tough group, to protect their quarterback, to try to establish a physicalness at the line of scrimmage,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “It’s fun watching them working together.”
Odom credited the work of the entire 11 offensive players on the field as contributing to the Tigers’ low sack total.
“I think it’s all working together. They’ve obviously given us time to stand in the pocket. Drew is a a year older and is able to read things a little bit clearer and quicker, which has helped, and, like I’ve talked about with the quarterback position before, about all 11 guys have to work together to make that position easier. I think everybody fitting together and working together, that’s obviously given us a chance to be a little more successful.”
According to Pro Football Focus, the offensive tackle duo of Howell and Adams has not allowed a sack, quarterback hit or hurry through two games.
The members of the offensive line are pleased with their performances so far but know they have to continue to get better.
“I know we had a couple pressures but I don’t know if (Lock) actually got hit, which is definitely something we take a lot of pride in,” Abeln said. “I think overall I was happy with how we played. I think we were more physical up front. Obviously protection’s been good two weeks now. And anytime your quarterback doesn’t get hit it’s a good night for us.”
Abeln also said he though the OL did a better job run blocking against Eastern Michigan. The Tigers averaged 4.5 yards per carry vs. EMU.
“I think we finished guys a little better,” he said. “I think we were more physical at the point of attack. Obviously we’re going to get better. Obviously that’s an area we need to keep improving on but I think from this week to last week much improved.”
The offensive line, in general, looks much improved so far in 2016. But the Tigers will have to keep that going on Saturday against Georgia.
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