COLUMBIA, Mo. – The imaginary black line that crosses a field in most television broadcasts these days is sort of like a football version of the Mendoza Line.
It represents the line of scrimmage, of course, but in a metaphorical sense, it’s a failure if the offense can’t cross it – similar to how a hitter failing to make the Mendoza Line, the nickname for a .200 batting average – is a failure.
In that sense, Missouri was perfect in its game against Florida on Saturday. It was a historically significant performance.
The Tigers had zero negative plays against the Gators, meaning every offensive play crossed the line of scrimmage. It was just the third time a Southeastern Conference team failed to get one tackle for loss since at least 2006 – as far back as tackle-for-loss stats go back on College Football Reference.
There’s no group more responsible for that than Missouri’s offensive line, but offensive line coach Glen Elarbee was quick to share the praise.
“Our running backs were unbelievable,” Elarbee said. “They hit the line of scrimmage so fast. Didn’t stutter. Hit the pile. I thought we were good assignment-wise, which helps in not cutting guys loose.”
It’s not like the Gators are bad at forcing negative plays. They might have checked out Saturday, their 10th game in a season that has included a season-altering hurricane, multiple players being arrested for felonies and head-coaching change. But Florida came to Columbia having recorded at least five tackles for loss in 14 straight games, a streak that started one week after it played Missouri last season.
The Tigers lead the nation in tackles for loss allowed at just 2.78 per game. That’s even better than last year, when Missouri’s 2.92 tackles for loss allowed were the fewest per game by a Football Bowl Subdivision team since the NCAA started tracking the statistic.
The results have been consistently great, but the Tigers have used a new group to get there. All five offensive-line starters from last year are still on the roster, but Missouri has three new faces in the starting lineup: right guard Tre’Vour Simms, center Trystan Castillo and left tackle Yasir Durant.
“They’ve done a great job. A really, really, really good job,” Elarbee said of the new trio. “They’ve brought some physicalness to us, finishing guys. I think they’re playing good, too, because they’re splitting time with (returning veterans) Tyler Howell and Adam Ploudre and (Alec) Abeln and Samson (Bailey)."
The run game was highly successful Saturday. The Tigers ran for 227 yards, their second-highest mark of the season after the opener against Missouri State.
“Obviously, we like playing physical. That’s what we want to pride ourselves on,” Elarbee said. “I think they enjoy getting to go and run the ball. There’s something, you know, classic or barbaric about being an offensive lineman and trying to just push somebody around.”
The statistics – and the praises – don’t mean much to Missouri’s front. Simms said Tuesday that he wasn’t aware the Tigers didn’t have a negative play until a reporter asked about it.
“I don’t care about my highlights,” Simms said, adding that the plays he only really focuses on are the mistakes.
Simms and Elarbee said that when it comes to the line’s potential, there’s still “meat on the bone.” That jives with left guard Kevin Pendleton’s words in Week 2 when he said “we had a lot of smoke blown up our rear about how good we played” last year.
The line might take the role of road graters again this week when Missouri hosts Tennessee, which allows 150 passing yards per game but 237 yards per game on the ground.
“If the box is right, you have to be able to go run it,” Elarbee said. “I think there will be some opportunities, and when that happens, we have to take advantage of it. We can’t not be able to churn up fours and fives and get first downs and stay on the field.”