Missouri set to face off against staunch, seasoned Wyoming defense

The Cowboys allowed the ninth-fewest points per game of any FBS program in 2017, a better mark than Auburn, LSU or Ohio State.
Wide receiver Nate Brown throws his hands up at an official after a flag wasn't thrown for defensive pass interference on a play late in the first half of Missouri's 51-14 win over UT-Martin on September 1, 2018.

In order to get a grip on the speed of the Wyoming defense, Drew Lock and the Missouri offense are giving their scout team a head start in this week’s practices.

“We’re starting our linebackers a second before the play starts in our scout team looks right now, so we can just simulate how fast they get to the ball,” Lock said after practice on Tuesday.

It’s an unorthodox but necessary preparation tactic, considering Wyoming is returning much of a defense that led the country last season with a plus-24 turnover margin.

After an easy win at New Mexico State and what turned out to be a blowout loss at home to Washington State, the Cowboys are sitting at 1-1 this season.

Regardless, with eight returning starters on defense, including three 2017 All-MWC Selections and one 2018 preseason All-American, the Tiger offense is aware — on all levels — of how ready it needs to be for this weekend’s matchup.

“You’re not going to fool them with anything,” offensive coordinator Derek Dooley said. “They have a great system. It’s sound, it’s multiple and they really create a lot of problems for every offense they play … so this is going to be a big challenge for our guys.”

Last year’s Wyoming squad finished 2017 allowing the ninth-fewest points per game in the country. That’s a better finish than traditional powerhouses like Michigan and Ohio State, or LSU and Auburn. The only loss in which the Cowboys allowed more than 350 total yards of offense was to Oregon (who totaled 558 yards in an absolute decimation in Laramie).

When asked if there were any particular standouts on the Wyoming defense, Dooley responded with no one in particular, but acknowledged the unit as a whole.

“They have really good players at every level,” Dooley said. “They have some D-lineman that can really disrupt on pass rush … They have linebackers who are really instinctive and play hard and then they have these secondary players who disrupt and so they create a lot of problems at every level of defense.”

Some particular standouts on this year’s squad include senior safety, team captain and preseason All-American Andrew Wingard, who led the 2017 squad in both tackles (117) and interceptions (5). On top of him, there’s the returning duo of defensive linemen Carl Granderson and Youhanna Ghaifan. The two combined for 31.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks.

That 2017 Wyoming unit ended up having success at every level (91 tackles for loss and 33 sacks), but the pass defense finished second in the nation in total interceptions with 20 and they had 31 passes defended.

“It’s just kind of a theme that’s been at the top of our list from the start, you know, taking care of the football,” receiver coach A.J. Ofodile said. “We want to create turnovers on the other side, but we also want to make sure that we don’t [cause turnovers on offense].”

Even with a hard-nosed, defense-first team coming to town, the Tigers may be able to fight Wyoming’s lockdown pass defense with their own high-flying passing attack. After all, this is a Missouri team that finished 2017 with one of the more high-volume passing attacks in the nation; it was 14th in passing yards per game and tied for first in most passing touchdowns per game.

There’s also, of course, Drew Lock, who finished last Saturday’s matchup with UT-Martin shortly after the second half of the game even began. His 19-for-25, four-touchdown statline was enough for one day’s work in almost one half. He emphasized not only his offense’s preparation at Tuesday’s media availability, but the speed of Wyoming’s defense.

“We just need to be on our a-game mentally and physically, especially in the quarterback room as far as mentally," Lock said. "We need to watch a lot of film this week and make sure we know what they’re doing every single play.”

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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