MU’s offensive line struggles resurface

Tigers allowed nine tackles for loss, were penalized for holding five times in a win




St. Louis Post Dispatch


COLUMBIA, Mo. — Brady Cook didn’t have much time to get out of David Oke‘s way. The defensive end slipped clean through a hole at left guard, where Luke Griffin replaced the injured Xavier Delgado, slammed the Missouri quarterback to the > Up next: 11 a.m. Saturday at Auburn, ESPN ground — and very briefly to the medical tent — and knocked the football into MU’s end zone. Abilene Christian defensive lineman Alexander Duke was first to it, and the Wildcats had their first touchdown of the day with four minutes remaining in the third quarter, making it a twotouchdown contest. The story of the game? Not by a long shot. Indicative of a mounting problem? Indeed. Missouri completed the task at hand Saturday, looking comfortable enough that a win never was in doubt, but was shoddy in enough areas that the 34-17 final score against an overmatched FCS opponent underwhelmed. But the sack and resulting defensive touchdown was the first time that one of the Tigers’ most noticeable question marks of the season — the struggling offensive line — came back to bite them. Missouri’s backfield was tackled for loss nine times over the course of the contest against the Wildcats. Worse still, MU offensive linemen were responsible for five holding penalties, resulting in 50 yards worth of backtracking. Now, coach Eli Drinkwitz is revisiting his options. Offensive line coach Marcus Johnson often repeats the phrase “next man up.” Before preseason camp, he said he wants to put the five best linemen on the field, regardless of their natural position, at any given time. “In our room, it’s all about next man up mentality,” Johnson said July 31. “No matter who it is, because at the end of the day, when that ball gets kicked off and that clock starts ticking, nobody cares anyway. It’s my job, my responsibility, to have whoever is on that field ready to go. “Just because you’ve been the backup right tackle, backup left tackle or center, or whatever, that doesn’t mean you’re the first one going in the game, because we’re trying to put the sixth-best guy in the game.” “Next man up” might become plural by the time Missouri takes on Auburn next Saturday. “We’ve got to go back and look and see who the best five guys are, to be honest,” Drinkwitz said. “We can’t hold. We put a couple guys in there, and they got holding penalties. So we’ve got to go back and find out: What is the best five?” Missouri’s first drive of the second quarter looked a lot like several this season. Three underwhelming run plays — one to the left, two up the gut. It advanced the Tigers 9 yards, to the halfway line, and brought up fourth and very short. Cook stayed on, hung tight to his offensive line. He glanced over to the sideline and then back to his teammates on the field and waited, hung around, and waited some more — until the play clock hit zeros, and the punt team came on with the ball 5 yards further back than it was just moments ago. The nine tackles for loss Abilene Christian racked up might provide a clue as to why Missouri waited. Kansas State managed 10 against the Tigers in Week 2. Louisiana Tech had seven in the opener, meaning opposition defenders have brought down MU players 26 times behind the line of scrimmage so far this season. In that same period, Missouri has managed 13. It has certainly had an effect on the run game. Cody Schrader led the team in rushing with 54 yards . Nathaniel Peat’s Week 1 performance remains Missouri’s best on the ground, at 72 yards. “There was some good and bad (with the running backs). Hard to assess because we had five holding penalties and even took a touchdown off the board with one of them,” Drinkwitz said. “So that’s going to be a little muddy to assess.” Then there are the penalties. Right guard Connor Wood was called for holding twice, while right tackle Zeke Powell, center Connor Tollison and backup guard EJ Ndoma Ogar each were tagged for one. Add those all up and you’ll notice four calls — 40 yards worth — on the interior of the offensive line. Despite the problems, Cook did seem to have a little bit more time in the pocket to work the vertical game, and he capitalized with a 79-yard bomb to Dominic Lovett in the first quarter. Drinkwitz noticed what he called “a little bit of leakage” on a deep ball later in the match and urged better protection. But Missouri’s quarterback remained positive about the line in front of him. “Those guys still did a heck of a job. Every snap, they’re working their butts off,” Cook said. “We ran the ball, we threw the ball all day. There’s not a whole lot, but we’re going to clean up a few things. I have confidence in those guys.” Drinkwitz? Less so. The Southeastern Conference slate is next, after all. “We’ve got to go figure that out,” the coach said, “because penalties and poor execution are hurting this team.”