Poor tackling has been the single biggest issue for Missouri’s defense through the first two games of the Barry Odom era.
That’s incredibly bad news with Georgia junior Nick Chubb coming to town Saturday for a Southeastern Conference showdown under the Memorial Stadium lights.
“You can put on any tape against any team,” new Mizzou defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross said, “rarely does one guy get him down. I don’t care who he’s playing.”
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While the Tigers’ struggles to generate a pass rush have garnered most of the attention from dismayed fans, it’s the ongoing inability to stop the run that remains most problematic.
Odom said the gap integrity of Mizzou’s new defensive scheme — a significant issue during a season-opening loss at West Virginia — was better in week two against Eastern Michigan, but “the thing we struggled with the most was yards after contact and missed tackles.”
That’s troublesome, because according to College Football Focus, Chubb leads the nation with 234 yards after contact this season.
“He can make you miss, and he can run through tackles,” Tigers defensive line coach Jackie Shipp said. “You have to gang tackle Nick Chubb. … That’s how you stop a good back. You’ve got to get 11 guys to the ball.”
Missouri knows what’s coming when it kicks off with Georgia at 6:30 p.m. on the SEC Network in the conference-opener for both teams.
“It’s no secret that they want to run the ball,” said senior linebacker Michael Scherer, who leads MU with 16 tackles this season. “They’re going to run the ball probably 50-plus times on Saturday. That’s no secret. It comes down to us being aggressive and stopping them.”
That’s easier said than done against Chubb, who has been remarkably consistent since cracking Georgia’s starting lineup in October 2014 when former teammate Todd Gurley was suspended before, ironically, a game at Missouri.
Chubb — whom Odom called “one of the best in the country, if not the best” — rushed a career-high 38 times for 143 yards with a touchdown that day, pacing a 34-0 Bulldogs victory against the Tigers.
Not counting last season against Tennessee, when Chubb tore ligaments in his knee on his first carry and was sidelined for the remainder of the season after surgery, he’s rushed for at least 113 yards in every game before last week.
Chubb, who only had 80 yards in 20 carries in a 26-24 win against Nicholls, also has at least one touchdown in every game except a September 2015 contest at Vanderbilt.
“He’s very good,” Scherer said. “The way he’s built, short and stocky and very wide, it’s tough to bring him down.”
Chubb doesn’t appear slowed from last season’s knee injury either.
“He’s a really explosive guy with a low center of gravity,” Cross said. “He finishes his runs with a physical force of nature to his style. He hasn’t changed much from what I’ve seen before he got hurt.”
Sound fundamentals, discipline with technique and physicality at the point of attack are all critical in addition to the emphasis on tackling. More than anything, it’s strength in numbers, especially when Chubb tucks it under his arm.
“Georgia is Georgia,” Missouri junior defensive end Charles Harris said. “Even if you know what’s happening, you’ve got to be able to stop it.”
No. 16 Georgia at Missouri
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Memorial Stadium in Columbia
TV: SEC Network
Three story lines
1. LADY LUCK RUNS OUT: Missouri dodged Georgia’s top running back for three straight seasons, but it doesn’t appear that run of luck will continue. Reigning NFL offensive rookie of the year Todd Gurley, a former Bulldogs star, missed matchups with the Tigers in 2013 (ankle injury) and 2014 (NCAA suspension). As a sophomore last season, Nick Chubb wasn’t available after tearing three ligaments, including the posterior cruciate ligament, in his left knee one week before a game with Missouri. “Yeah, oh well — as of right now, it’s changed before,” senior linebacker Michael Scherer joked Monday.
2. BRILLIANT BOOKENDS: Missouri’s offensive line has allowed only one quarterback sack on 94 dropbacks this season. Even more remarkable, according to College Football Focus, the Tigers’ starting tackles, junior left tackle Tyler Howell and sophomore right tackle Paul Adams, haven’t allowed a single QB pressure in 87 snaps apiece.
3. FIRST-TIME SCORERS GALORE: For the first time in program history, Missouri had five players — Emanuel Hall, Johnathon Johnson, Jason Reese, Ray Wingo and Kendall Blanton — catch their first career touchdown in the same game last week. A total of eight Tigers — including walk-on kicker Turner Adams (two extra points), running back Damarea Crockett (26-yard run) and linebacker Joey Burkett (interception return) — scored for the first time last week.