COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri senior Jack Meiners called them “great pass rushers.” Co-offensive line coach Bruce Walker noted their size and athleticism. Gary Pinkel simply said they were “outstanding.”
So yes, it's safe to say the Tigers' players and coaches are well-aware that No. 8 South Carolina — their opponent this week — has a defensive line with several players whose talents match their rather large frames.
Just don't expect the Tigers, 2-1, to back down at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“They're going to be fast; they're going to be good,” said junior left tackle Justin Britt. “But like I told everybody else: It's about our technique and how we prepare this week. We realize it's going to be a big week for us.”
Blocking Jadeveon Clowney, a 6-foot-6, 256-pound sophomore who brings rare speed to the position, has to be the priority. The long-armed, dread-wearing South Carolina native finished last season with eight sacks and leads the team in sacks (three) and tackles for loss (5 1 / 2) this season.
Clowney, who was named SEC defensive lineman of the week for his two-sack performance against Alabama-Birmingham last Saturday, is bookended by 6-foot-8, 267-pound senior Devin Taylor, who has nine tackles (two for loss) this season and was an honorable mention All-Southeastern Conference player in 2011.
Throw gifted defensive tackles Kelcy Quarles — a 6-foot-4, 286-pound freshman All-American last season — and senior inside linebacker Shaq Wilson (eight tackles, one for loss, one sack) into the mix, and you have the makings of a terrific front.
“They're just very talented,” Pinkel said, “like Georgia.”
The Tigers, who have been dealing with injuries to five of their top 10 offensive linemen, got a taste of what blocking these guys could be like in their SEC debut on Sept. 8, when the Bulldogs racked up seven tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries in a 41-20 victory at Memorial Stadium.
In that game, Missouri's tackles struggled to block star linebacker Jarvis Jones, who had both of the Bulldogs' sacks, plus an interception and a forced fumble. With 6-foot-3, 358-pound nose tackle John Jenkins — another pro prospect — also clogging up the running lanes in the middle, the Bulldogs managed to get away with rushing only three or four players and dropped the rest back into coverage.
Based on what he's seen on film, it sounded like Missouri offensive coordinator David Yost wouldn't be surprised if the Gamecocks — who do turn a little more aggressive on third down — tried the same thing.
“My initial reaction by watching South Carolina is that they're not a heavy-pressure team,” Yost said. “With the four dudes they've got up front, it's like they're blitzing four as it is, so they don't need to bring anybody else.”
To counter the rush, Pinkel noted there were many things the Tigers can do: play action, shorter drops, misdirection, bringing in extra blockers .
It should help that senior Jack Meiners — the team's strongest offensive lineman — is to return to the starting lineup from a sprained knee. Pinkel said Monday he will play tackle or guard, depending on how he looks in practice this week.
And while Arizona State certainly got to the quarterback in Missouri's 24-20 win on Saturday, several players and coaches noted the overall improvement in pass protection from game two to game three.
That fact, plus the fact the Tigers have seen already an SEC-caliber defensive line Georgia this season, is enough to make all involved believe better days are on the horizon.
“We worked hard last week, and a lot of people got better this past game,” Britt said.
“We're only going to get better every week.”