‘A tremendous challenge’: Missouri Tigers’ run defense will be put to test at BC

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When evaluating the Missouri Tigers’ upcoming opponent, one of the biggest things that stood out to head coach Eliah Drinkwitz was Boston College’s offensive line.

The Eagles boast size, with all five starters standing at or above 6-foot-3 and weighing nearly 300 pounds or more. There’s also tons of experience, with 140 combined starts in the group. And there’s a lot of talent too, with all but one having previously earned all-conference honors.

“What makes them go is their five offensive linemen up front,” Drinkwitz said. “Going to be a tremendous challenge, again, for us to stop the run, which we haven’t consistently done. We need to do a better job or we will be in trouble.”

The Eagles’ unit has allowed them to rely on a potent run game that’s averaged over 200 yards on the ground this season. Simply put: one of Boston College’s biggest strengths plays right into one of Mizzou’s biggest weaknesses.

Through the first two games of the season, Missouri had the worst run defense among Power Five teams, allowing its opponents to average 253.5 yards on the ground. The Tigers picked up a win over Central Michigan in Week 1, but couldn’t overcome allowing four rushing touchdowns to Kentucky the following week, resulting in a 35-28 loss.

Following the defeat, the team made run defense a huge focus. Though it was against a much weaker FCS opponent in Southeast Missouri State, the defensive starters and primary backups did show noticeable improvement last Saturday. Mizzou held the Redhawks to just 56 rushing yards through the first half, after which the bench was emptied.

“Very pleased with how the ones played,” defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. “We got to continue to improve particularly this week against Boston College, who are very impressive up front.”

Both Wilks and Drinkwitz compared the Eagles’ offensive line to that of Kentucky, given the size and NFL prospects. They expect Boston College to run a similar pro-style offense as well. Any strides that the defense has made since that loss will be directly put to the test this Saturday.

“I think it’s a matter of whether or not we’ve learned our lesson,” Drinkwitz said. “Whether or not we have great leverage in the trenches. Whether or not we have great hand placement, hands inside. Whether or not we fit our gaps. Whether or not we can protect our linebackers from allowing the linemen to get to the second level. Whether or not we can force edges on the perimeter. Whether or not we can keep contained. I mean, it’s no secret how we got to stop it, it’s just, are we going to do it.”

Safety Martez Manuel said the defense felt a huge weight following the Kentucky game, knowing that they let the offense down. That blow to their pride has been a huge motivator since, pushing the unit to practice with much more intensity over the last week and a half. A team captain, he has emphasized how important those reps are to his teammates, going out of his way to point out busted plays and make sure errors are corrected on the practice field instead of letting them carry over into games.

Facing a Boston College offense that has been averaging 41.3 points per game behind its impressive line presents a major challenge. But it also presents a major opportunity for the defense to prove itself and show much growth it has actually made. Manuel, for one, is tired of hearing about his unit’s inability to stop the run.

“I’m just really excited to just shut everybody up, you know what I mean,” Manuel said. “I’m just looking forward to keep doing my job, keep encouraging guys to do their job and we’ll just let the outcomes speak for themselves.”

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