Tigers defensive line has been award worthy this season

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Michael Sam is the newest member of a quickly growing club.

The Mizzou senior defensive end earned the Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week award Monday morning, becoming the third Tiger to claim the prize this year. That’s impressive, considering the Tigers have played only four games in the past five weeks.

Sam was worthy. He sacked Arkansas State quarterback Adam Kennedy three times in a 41-19 win Saturday, the single-game high for any player in the country so far this year.

Other Mizzou recipients include defensive end Markus Golden, who returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown against Toledo, and defensive end Kony Ealy, who returned a pick 49 yards for a score against Indiana.

Before this season started, I asked Sam if he was concerned about his current line making up for the loss of Sheldon Richardson, the defensive tackle who was the spark plug of the Tigers D before he was drafted by the New York Jets.

“Every year since I’ve been here, the D-line has been the best group of the defense,” Sam answered. “I don’t think that’s going to even change a little bit. Yeah, we lost Sheldon. But I don’t think that’s going to change anything. We’ve got guys who can take his spot. We are going to be good.”

His prediction has been spot-on so far.

INTERCEPTION TRACKER

It’s worth noting the Tigers are now tied for second place in the nationwide race for interceptions. Senior corner E.J. Gaines picked off one more Saturday, moving his team’s total to 10. That’s an average of 2.5 per game. Northwestern also has 10 in four games. Tennessee and Virginia Tech, each with 11, have played five times.

PRIME TIME

The SEC announced Monday that the Tigers’ game against Georgia in Athens on Oct. 12 has landed a national ESPN broadcast. That game kicks off at 11 a.m. CT. It’s the first time the Tigers will appear on the network this season.

HOOPS IS IN THE AIR

Just when football season is hitting its stride, it’s time to start keeping an eye on basketball. Frank Haith’s Mizzou men’s basketball squad officially started practice Monday.

As is becoming the norm with Haith’s teams, there are plenty of new faces on the roster. Recruiting experts rave about freshman point guard Wes Clark (6 feet, 171 pounds), a Top 100 recruit who will be asked to fill Phil Pressey’s absence. Keanau Post is also an intriguing option. The 6-11, 268-pound junior college transfer earned second-team junior college All-American honors at Southwestern Illinois Community College. And don’t forget about Jordan Clarkson, the guard from Tulsa who is finally eligible to play after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.

The Lindy’s college hoops preview I picked up recently predicts Mizzou will finish fifth in the SEC, behind Kentucky, Florida, LSU and Tennessee.

Haith, now entering his third season in Columbia, should be expected to deliver a higher finish.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at frederickson.ben@gmail.com.