Future of Missouri defensive line shines on senior day

Elliott had a career-high three sacks and Akial Byers recovered a fumble for a touchdown.
Missouri defensive tackle Jordan Elliott celebrates his first of three sacks in Missouri's 38-0 win over Arkansas on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018 at Faurot Field.

Arkansas quarterback Connor Noland turned and tried to escape the pocket on fourth down.

As he turned he was faced with a familiar sight, defensive tackle Jordan Elliott, who threw down Noland for his third sack of the day.

Elliott terrorized both the starter Ty Storey and backup Noland for the entire afternoon, exploiting one-on-one matchups and leading Missouri to a 38-0 Battle Line win on senior day at Faurot Field.

It was a farewell game for star defensive linemen Terry Beckner Jr. and Walter Palmore, but it was also Elliott’s coming out party.

Elliott had zero sacks on the year coming into the game after transferring from Texas. But he finished with a career-high of three that moved him to second-place on the team in one day. It was the first time a Missouri player had three sacks since Marcell Frazier did it in the Battle Line Rivalry game three years ago.

“It’s really hard,” Elliott said. “It's rare unless you’re Aaron Donald or something. It’s a blessing. Things fell into place and I was just able to finish.”

For Elliott’s birthday, he got to show a couple of flashes of the inside dominance Donald shows on Sundays for the Los Angeles Rams. The birthday gave Elliott another reason to celebrate his three-sack performance.

“I had a feeling man,” Elliott said. “But it was just big just being able to celebrate with my family. Everything was just perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.”

Elliott began that day with a third-down sack in the middle of the first quarter, forcing a punt and a second straight three-and-out to start the game for Arkansas.

“It was just doing what we know we can do,” Elliott said. “I was just a lot looser and was doing the things I do in practice all the time.”

Elliott got his second sack the drive after Missouri took a 14-0 lead. He swung around the outside of the line and barreled into Storey to force a fumble that rolled off the hands of linemen, through the wet grass and into the end zone. MU lineman Akial Byers fell on it in the marsh to complete the defensive touchdown.

“I see the quarterback with the ball, and so I just hit him,” Elliott said. “I tried to hit him as hard as I could and I’m glad the ball came out.”

As for Byers, he looked down and saw an opportunity to score for the first time since his days as a middle school running back. The touchdown was Missouri’s second in less than a minute for a 21-0 lead.

“I already knew I was gonna get it because it was wet,” Byers said. “O-linemen aren’t good with handling the balls I guess, so I just fell on it.”

It may not have been Byers’ birthday, but the Fayetteville, Arkansas, native was playing against his hometown team that had spurned him and hadn’t offered him a scholarship during the recruiting process.

“Yeah, it was very special,” Byers said. “That’s my home state. I wanted to prove a point honestly, because they didn’t think I could be here doing this at this level, doing what I know I can do.”

Elliott continued to lead the defensive line by example when he stopped Noland on a quarterback run. It was his fourth tackle for a loss on the afternoon.

“It helps the whole defensive line,” Byers said. “Everybody else is feeding off of him to do better things. It was good seeing it so all of us could try to play like that.”

Elliott and Byers played major roles and foreshadowed future roles as major contributors on the defensive line next season, once Beckner and Palmore have departed.

Elliott especially showed a powerful presence on the interior that Missouri fans feared would vanish with Beckner. Instead, Elliott gave fans reason for optimism with a career day.

“He’s done some really good things, but today was his best game,” coach Barry Odom said. “Now the challenge for him is that we need that all the time.”

Elliott will be given more responsibility and be left with more snaps as the only returning player from the defensive tackle rotation of Elliott, Beckner and Palmore.

“This season with Walt and Terry, there is no drop off, so we’re just trading spots,” Elliott said. “Next year it is the same thing. We’re going to have some weapons and some good people.”

Elliott will have to not only replace the production, but also the leadership left by the two seniors.

“They’re big,” Elliott said. “They lead by example and when you see the things that they can do, it’s just an inspiration and it makes you want to do those things or do them better. They’ve been influencing all of us, the whole D-line and even people in the secondary and the linebackers.”

The redshirt sophomore will pair with the sophomore Byers to form a tandem that will lead the defensive line next season.

“I see us playing a big role,” Byers said. “We had some seniors leave so we’re just going to have to step up and take their role.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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