Missouri likes line play despite opening-season loss

BY foxsports • September 8, 2016

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Missouri lacked scoring punch in the disappointing 26-11 loss at West Virginia to open the season - a problem the Tigers know all too well from last season.

Still, there is a silver lining:

The Tigers had 47 rushes and 53 pass attempts on their way to 462 yards of total offense-more than any game last season- and utilized 10 different pass catchers, six ball carriers and two quarterbacks, sophomores Drew Lock and Marvin Zanders.

It would appear the Tigers are moving in the right direction offensively - and maybe the points will come soon, too.

Last season, Missouri's offense averaged 64 plays and 15 first downs per game. Against West Virginia, the Tigers ran 100 plays and picked up 26 first downs, the most since defeating Arkansas 21-14 on Nov. 29, 2014.

However, perhaps the biggest change in the Tigers' offense is one that might not stand out on a stat sheet.

Over the course of those 100 snaps at West Virginia, Missouri did not make a substitution on the offensive line.

''That was our goal,'' said sophomore Kevin Pendleton, who made the first start of his collegiate career at left guard against the Mountaineers. ''Play fast. I think we did a good job of that. One hundred plays is a lot, but the good thing is, it didn't feel like that to us, so that's one of the advantages we look to have this season is to be on a fast-paced team and an up-tempo team and be able to run that many plays.''

From left to right, Missouri started junior college transfer Tyler Howell, Pendleton, Samson Bailey, Alec Ablen and Paul Adams in its opener.

In 2015, seven offensive linemen started over the course of an injury-plagued season, with a total of 11 seeing the field of play. Ablen started three games last season, making him the only returning lineman with starting experience.

Despite the inexperience, coach Barry Odom praised the offensive line's efforts against West Virginia.

''It was pretty good protection,'' Odom said. ''Both quarterbacks had time to throw the ball. There was a pocket there that they were able to step up into. They have made great progress over fall camp, and I would expect from now until Saturday, they're going to play that much better.''

Bailey, who served as center Evan Boehm's backup in 2015, was also pleased with the overall cohesion of the offensive line.

''As a whole unit, for the first time all starting together, us five, I feel like we came out and competed well,'' he said. ''If guys were nervous, they didn't show it that much.''

The line allowed only one sack against West Virginia, something it accomplished three times in 2015. Missouri also piled up 180 rushing yards in its opener, a total it eclipsed just twice over the course of last season. Up next is Eastern Michigan (1-0).

''We've got to make sure that once we get on the right guy, we finish him,'' Pendleton said. ''Ultimately, move him out of the way and put him on the ground. So that's one thing we're going to focus on this week is playing all the way through the echo of the whistle and make sure to help the team succeed.''

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