Missouri's 'D-Line Zou' leading Tigers' hot start to season

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D-Line Zou.

The nickname first presented itself over the summer at Southeastern Conference media days when a reporter asked Missouri senior defensive end Markus Golden if the school was "D-line U" because of the long list of successful defensive lineman the program has produced.

"No," Golden replied. "We're D-Line Zou. Because we're animals."

The Tigers certainly lived up to their nickname on Saturday during a 38-18 romping of Central Florida, which was highlighted by multiple plays from the defensive line, including an interception by sophomore Josh "Big Bear" Augusta that you may see on SportsCenter this week.

In the third quarter Augusta, a 6-foot-4 inch nose tackle deflected a pass from Knights quarterback Justin Holman and leaped over two offensive linemen to catch the ball. The play was a momentum changer for the Tigers, who were only leading 14-10 at the time. Following the play, Missouri would score 24 unanswered points over the rest of the game.

"What a great play," Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel said. "You need a guy that big to make sure he made a play, but what great hands. The whole half changed, the whole game changed."

For fellow lineman Shane Ray, Augusta's performance was no surprise because he's seen what Augusta can do before in games and has raised his expectations of him over time.

"This is the kind of stuff we expect of him," Ray said. "When you show us a glimpse of something and everybody sees it, you can't go back to playing mediocre or like a young guy. We expect him to step up and make plays like that."

Ray was another one of the Missouri linemen that had a great game on Saturday, setting a career high in tackles-for-loss with four and adding another pair of sacks to bring his season total up to five, a team best. The Kansas City native played behind All-American Michael Sam and current Carolina Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy last year and is expected to be a potential green room invite in next May's NFL Draft.

Ray cites the pair as a big reason for his solid start to the season.

"Just being able to be in the same room with those guys and see what they're doing and how guys are handling them slowly I was able to just come to things that I noticed they were doing," Ray explained.

"I realized Mike was staying low and flat when he was ripping outside so I started doing that. Kony is physical on the play then he throws the guy off so I did that. So last year was me playing and feeling myself out and learning my strengths. Now that I have all those tools I'm just trying to use them to the best of my ability."

Aside from Augusta, Ray and Golden, the Tigers additionally got big plays out of senior Lucas Vincent and sophomores Harold Brantley and Rickey Hatley. Brantley got the start for injured senior Matt Hoch and Golden says the team holds him to the same standards as himself and Ray.

"Markus says that because it's the way that Harold plays which is why we hold him in that regard," Ray said. "He's fast. You don't see many defensive tackles that played running back and did kick returns in high school. When Markus and I are on the field we expect Harold to rush just as fast as we do because we've seen what he can do."

The No. 20 Tigers and D-Line Zou look to improve to 4-0 next Saturday as they wrap up non-conference play against Indiana. Kickoff is set for 3 pm CT.

Alex Schiffer is a sophomore journalism student at the University of Missouri and hails from Westfield, New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter: @TheSchiffMan
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