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2014 Alabama Football: Previewing the Missouri Defense

Mizzou's D looks to upset the Tide

Gary Pinkel has quietly led his team to two consecutive SEC East titles.
Gary Pinkel has quietly led his team to two consecutive SEC East titles.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama will meet Missouri on the gridiron for only the fifth time ever on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game. For Alabama, the Georgia Dome is a familiar location, as this will be the fourth time that the Crimson Tide has played in Atlanta in the last three seasons (including season openers and the SECCG). Missouri too has experience in the title game, having met Auburn there just one year ago.

While many experts and oddsmakers have seemingly already awarded Alabama the title before the ball is snapped, don't count the Tigers out just yet. Mizzou will bring, perhaps, the best defensive line in college football to play the Tide this weekend. The Tigers will need a strong showing from their defense to compete with Alabama, who may be in danger of a letdown after an exhausting and emotional Iron Bowl victory last Saturday.

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel has quietly led his team to a 22-4 record over the past two seasons, after a rocky first year in the Southeastern Conference. Even more remarkable, however, is that the Tigers are winning in a completely different fashion than last season.

Take a look at this chart to see the transformation that has taken place:

Mizzou 2013

Opponents 2013

Mizzou 2014

Opponents 2014

Points per game





Rush yards per game





Pass yards per game





Total Yards per game





3rd Down Conversions





While Mizzou has regressed offensively compared to last season (largely attributable to the loss of two major offensive weapons in James Franklin and Dorial Green-Beckham), the defense under coordinator/linebackers coach Dave Steckel has picked up the slack, holding opponents to an average of 87 fewer yards per game and 3.5 fewer points. This has kept the Tigers within reach of every opponent it has faced, except Georgia, and has allowed a slow-starting offense to catch up.

Markus Golden is the best player on Missouri's formidable defensive line.

Defensive Line

The key for Missouri in this game will be to bring pressure with its four down linemen, overwhelming a banged-up Alabama offensive front. The Tigers have an experienced defensive line that plays a 4-3 scheme. Redshirt senior defensive end Markus Golden (6'3", 260 lbs) is the leading tackler in the unit for the second year in a row (62), despite missing the Indiana game due to a hamstring injury. Golden also has a respectable 16 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks for the year. He was named SEC defensive player of the week for his efforts in the win over Tennessee two weeks ago.

Shane Ray, a 6'3", 245-lb redshirt junior, starts at the other end position. Ray, a speedy rush end, has 59 tackles on the season, a whopping 20.5 of which are for loss, and 12 sacks, which leads the SEC. Ray has forced two fumbles on the year as well.

Nose tackle Harold Brantley, a redshirt sophomore from Hershey, Pennsylvania, while the youngest player in the front four, is a second-year starter on the line. Brantley, at 6'3" 290 lbs, has 45 tackles this season, including 6.5 for loss. He also has 4.5 sacks.

Finally, redshirt senior Matt Hoch (6'5", 295 lbs) rounds out the starting line. The defensive tackle is an academic standout and a three-year starter on the line. He has 30 tackles, including eight for loss, on the season.


Redshirt junior Kentrell Brothers leads the Missouri linebacker corps from the mike spot, replacing departed senior Andrew Wilson this season after playing two years at weak-side linebacker. Brothers (6'1", 235 lbs) is a bit small for a middle linebacker, but he leads the team in tackles with 103. The second-year starter from Guthrie, Oklahoma has also forced three fumbles on the season.

Strong-side linebacker Michael Scherer (6'3", 235 lbs) is the team's second-leading tackler, with 100 stops in 2014. Donavin Newsom (6'2", 230 lbs) plays the weak-side position but only has 20 tackles this season. Both are redshirt sophomores and first-year starters.


Redshirt senior Braylon Webb (6'0", 205 lbs) is the standout player in the Tigers' defensive secondary.  The safety has 42 career starts and leads the unit in both tackles (62) and interceptions (4). Cornerback Kenya Dennis, a 6'0", 200-lb junior from Leland, Mississippi, has 48 tackles and has broken up nine passes. Sophomore Aarion Penton, a 5'10", 185-lb cornerback, has three interceptions on the season along with his 32 tackles and seven passes broken up. Junior safety Ian Simon, a redshirt junior from Mansfield, Texas, completes the starting 11.  Simon (6'0", 195 lbs) has 39 tackles on the year.


It's fair to say that Missouri at its best is good enough to defeat Alabama at its worst.  The Tigers have a better-than-average defense that played a huge part in getting Mizzou to Atlanta. It also bears mention that Mizzou has laid a couple of eggs this year - getting blown out 34-0 at home by Georgia and losing inexcusably to a 4-8 Indiana team that won only one game in the B1G. If Alabama scores 30 or more points, something it has done in eight games this season, the Tide will almost certainly win. Mizzou's best chance is to catch the Tide looking ahead (or back). If Alabama plays lethargic, turns the ball over, and is otherwise sloppy and unfocused, Missouri can pull off the victory.