One thing’s for certain about the success of the Missouri secondary that leads the nation in passes defended with 36 — it can’t be attributed to their height.
Of the 12 members of the secondary that have contributed to the 29 pass break-ups and an SEC-leading seven interceptions this season, true freshman DeMarkus Acy stands tallest at 6 feet 2, which happens to be the height of the shortest of LSU’s three leading pass catchers heading into Saturday night’s contest (6:30 p.m on SEC Network).
On Monday, MU defensive back Aarion Penton spoke of the size of LSU’s Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre and D.J. Chark, but the 5-10 cornerback said he’s “not going to treat them as anything different” than others he’s faced. Junior safety Thomas Wilson concurred.
“They're bigger guys and they're probably the biggest receivers we've played all year,” the 5-10 safety Wilson said Monday, “but we'll be fine on the back end.”
Although tall, LSU has struggled to find its three receivers through the first four games. LSU has 591 recieving yards, which ranks last in the SEC and 113th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Dural, a 6-foot-2 senior, leads LSU with 14 catches for 142 yards and a touchdown, a number that is only good enough for 36th-best in the Southeastern Conference. Missouri has five wide receivers in the top 30. Dupre, who is 6 foot 4 and was a member of the 2014 SEC All-Freshman team, has caught 11 passes for 99 yards. And Chark, a 6 foot 3 receiver, has caught seven passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.
As has often been the case for LSU over the years, the Tigers have struggled to find a quarterback, and they’ve alternated with juniors Brandon Harris and Danny Etling as starters. With junior running back Leonard Fournette leading the SEC in rush yards per game at 128.67, LSU often has not elected to utilize their tall wide receivers, but after LSU’s firing of Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron last Sunday, schemes could change.
Missouri senior linebacker Michael Scherer said he can only prepare for what he sees on film.
“I’m not a mind reader, I can’t see the future, but I can only prepare for what they’ve done so far,” Scherer said.
Penton said he has no preference as to what quarterback he’s up against Saturday, but interim LSU coach Ed Orgeron has said Etling has earned his starting spot.
“He looks kinda timid, not very comfortable,” Penton said of Etling. “So, we're just gonna do what we do and play very physical and fast."
But can they play big against LSU’s receivers? Will they have to?
In both of Missouri’s losses, the Tigers have surrendered a 100-yard game to opposing receivers — Georgia’s Isaiah McKenzie had 122 yards on 10 catches and West Virginia’s Daikiel Shorts had eight catches for 131 yards.
Regardless, Missouri defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross said he believes his team will have a better plan for pass coverage this week than they’ve had in the past.
“LSU’s got great athletes and a lot of talent at the receiver position. It’s a lot more than just one receiver like McKenzie,” Cross said, “so we’ve got to do a better job and try to put together a better package to at least be ready if that's what they want to do.”
Alec Lewis: @alec_lewis