MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– The Missouri Tigers’ defensive line is the pride and joy of the team and this season is no different.
Missouri has put a lot of talent in the NFL and this year echoes that with the talented Charles Harris.
“I tell you, looking at it from last year, it’s arguably the best d-line, defensive front. It’s arguably one of the best defenses that I’ve ever seen,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “One of the linebackers, NFL guy. Another one of the linebackers has a ton of starts but where the real, real good dudes are, the d-line. Not only were they, just like with the one guy the Harris kid obviously, he’s top-10 pick, but they have some young d-tackles who are going to be big time guys. They’re depth was really good. They rotated 10 to 12 guys in there last year at times. A lot of depth, and it’s pretty much the same guys. I know they lost a couple of guys. They still have plenty of them. It’s every bit as good as anything I’ve seen.”
Harris led the SEC in tackles for loss with 18.5 and he was among the leaders on theTigers in tackles.
“He’s a phenomenal football player,” West Virginia offensive coordinator Joe Wickline said. “But that’s who you line up against. We got great ones in the Big 12. He’s a dangerous guy, not just from a sacks standpoint but from a quarterback pressure standpoint. He does a nice job.”
Harris is just one of many of key players for Missouri up front, which also includes freshman All-American defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr.
The Mountaineers’ offensive line is expected to be clutch this season, so just how will WVU match up against one of the best defensive lines in the nation?
One of the country’s top centers, Tyler Orlosky, anchors the Mountaineers’ offensive line.
WVU will be without the services of Adam Pankey at guard on Saturday but the coaching staff is confident in redshirt Tony Matteo. Matteo and redshirt junior Kyle Bosch provide experience and strength at guard.
The weak spots on the line were on the edges but Wickline came on board to help solve the problems there.
This group has the potential to be the best line in Morgantown in years.
“I think we’re going to be a tough, physical group,” offensive line coach Ron Crook said. “We put a lot of emphasize on pass protection and improving the pocket for Skyler (Howard) and the quarterbacks standing back there. I am excited to see that. I am real excited to see how our emphasize has worked, how are guys have bought into it.”
The Mountaineers will face their toughest challenge right off the bat with the enormous Tigers’ d-line.
“Well, they have a couple guys who are over 300 pounds,” Crook said. “They got a couple guys who come really fast off the edge. It is what college football is today. You see great athletes lined up at defensive end that are fast, that are long, explosive and can come around the corner really quick. You are going to see guys inside that are hard to move. They anchor against the run game. You have a 300 pounder pushing into you trying to push back towards the quarterback, it’s hard for a certain guard to anchor in there and stop it. Everything they do is hard to control, hard to block.”
Beckner is the smallest at 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds. Rickey Hatley and AJ Logan are the two biggest up front. Hayley is a 6-foot-4, 320-pound senior and Logan is a 6-foot-2, 325-pound junior.
But the Tigers are more than big. They are fast, physical and all-around talented.
“They are fast,” Yodny Cajuste said. “They always have great ends, great interior guys. You can’t just point out one thing that makes them so good.”
Missouri was one of the top defensive teams in the country last season and only two players didn’t return. Therefore, the Tigers will be a force to reckon with once again.
“They’re not one-sided,” Wickline said. “They are very balanced. They have done a great job with pressuring the quarterback, with the multitude of sacks. They do a great job with loss of yardage, tackles in the backfield, being No.2 in the country. Stopping the pass, they are No.5 in the nation. And overall they are No.6. In other words, they are not a one-trick pony. They are going to stop the run. They are going to stop the pass.”
Missouri has shown they are good now its time for WVU to show the nation what it’s made of.
The Mountaineers have a tough task at hand but the line is ready to grab the Tigers by the tail.
“It’s always good to go against the best,” Cajuste said. “We take that. We are ready for it.”