All-defensive-end front propels Tigers to victory over Vanderbilt

Missouri often rushed four defensive ends on third down against the Commodores, and it translated to a season-high six sacks in a 26-17 victory.
The Missouri defensive line prepares for a play against Vanderbilt on Nov. 12.

Linebacker Joey Burkett often had trouble playing on Saturday instead of watching in awe as the Missouri defensive line went to work in front of him.

And rightfully so.

The Tigers’ defensive line returned to its dominant pass rush that earned the nickname “D-Line Zou” with a season-high six sacks in a 26-17 victory over Vanderbilt at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. The triumph over the Commodores was coach Barry Odom’s first Southeastern Conference victory.

Burkett couldn’t help but smile after the game as he thought about the defensive line’s return to its old pass-rushing form.

“When they are really going, it’s amazing,” Burkett said. “When you’re on the field with them, you just kind of stand there.”

What brought out the dominant defensive line of past years was a front from past years that the Tigers started using again recently. On most third downs, Missouri took out its defensive tackles and sent in two defensive ends. It gave the Tigers four defensive ends rushing the passer at once.

Missouri hasn’t been able to use this front much this season, though, because of the numerous games in which it trailed.

“When you’re not playing with a lead and they can just run the clock out, you can’t really do that because you have to be a run-stopping team,” defensive end Marcell Frazier said. “When you have the lead in the last seven minutes of the game, you can just go after them because they have to pass the ball.”

And boy did the defensive line go after them. Frazier and Charles Harris both registered 2.5 sacks. Defensive ends Jordan Harold and Nate Howard added .5 sacks each.

“That speed package is ruthless,” Harris said.

Harris experienced a five-game full-sack drought in the middle of the season. But in the last two games combined, he has sacked opposing quarterbacks 4.5 times. Harris has eight sacks on the season.

Add Frazier’s first multi-sack game of the season, and the Vanderbilt offense struggled to convert on third down, going 3-of-14.

“They were able to bend off the edges, and collapse the pocket,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “Anytime you do that, you can get a good four-man rush.”

It wasn’t just on third down that Missouri ran the all-defensive-end look, though. Defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross suggested to Odom that the Tigers start using it on early passing downs. Odom liked the idea, and it provided even more chaos for Vanderbilt.

When the Commodores had the ball deep in their territory late in the game, they failed to get a first down. Missouri has its creative front to thank for that. Rushing all defensive ends during the series, the Tigers forced Vanderbilt to turn it over on downs, completing the first Missouri victory since Sept. 24.

“It’s D-Line Zou, man,” linebacker Eric Beisel said. “They played a fantastic game.”

With the uncertainty at linebacker, Missouri will need its defensive line to continue to play at a high level as it faces two tough SEC opponents in Tennessee and Arkansas the next two weeks.

Burkett is OK with taking a back seat to the talented group in front of him, though.

“It’s almost indescribable,” Burkett said. “They just go and we just kind of are out there. They keep tearing it up, so we will just keep backing them up.”

Edited by Peter Baugh | pbaugh@themaneater.com

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