Does Missouri have best D-line in the SEC?

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Michael Sam has produced big results for Missouri.If you had the road to the SEC East title going through Columbia, Missouri this season, you should play the lottery.

The SEC media definitely didn't - they picked Missouri sixth among seven teams and picked Tennessee and Vanderbilt to finish ahead of them in the standings.

But Missouri's defense has keyed this season's surprising success.

In the last five NFL Drafts (2009-13), Missouri has produced an impressive six first-round selections. Only two schools in the country have produced more, NFL factories Alabama and Florida. There may be more to come.

This year's Missouri team leads the SEC in sacks (23), total pressures (69) and ranks second in tackles for loss (55) this season. The strength of the Missouri’s defense lies in its front four.

Sending 4-or-Fewer Pass Rushers
Missouri Ranks, This Season

The Tigers send four-or-fewer pass rushers on 89 percent of their opponents’ dropbacks, the highest percentage of any defense from an automatic-qualifying conference.

When sending standard pressure, Missouri has recorded an AQ-high 21 sacks and 61 total pressures (hurries, knockdown and sacks).

Missouri does not need to send extra pass rushers with defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy up front. Sam ranks tied for first in the FBS with nine sacks and second in the FBS with 13 tackles for loss.

Similarly, Ealy leads SEC defensive linemen with 20 total pressures and six pass breakups.

The Tigers front four will look to continue their success against South Carolina, a team that was widely regarded as having one of the top defensive lines heading into the season (ranked third by Phil Steele and first by Athlon Sports).

Looking at the metrics, Missouri’s line has outplayed South Carolina’s. The Tigers have eight more sacks, two more tackles for loss and 11 more hurries than the Gamecocks.

In terms of stopping the run, the Missouri is allowing 27 fewer yards rushing per game than South Carolina. Their opponents are averaging 1.8 yards before contact per rush, second fewest in the SEC and more than half a yard better than the Gamecocks (2.4 yards before contact per rush).

Through seven games, Michael Sam has had more of an impact than projected No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Jadaveon Clowney.

Although Clowney missed some time with an injury, Sam has seven more sacks and 7.5 more tackles for loss than Clowney.

Sam had three sacks in Missouri’s win against Florida last Saturday, his third multi-sack game of the season. He also had a 21-yard fumble return touchdown against Georgia two weeks ago.

Michael Sam vs Jadaveon Clowney
2013 Season

Look for Missouri to exploit a depleted South Carolina offensive line.

The Gamecocks have allowed at least three sacks in each of their last three games.

Florida (12) is the only SEC team that has allowed more sacks than South Carolina (10) during that time.

Missouri leads the FBS with 15 sacks in that same timespan.