Darius White, left, strikes a pose after scoring a touchdown.
Story by Christian Clark, KBIA Sports
The Missouri football team will feature a number of fresh faces in its starting lineup as Southeastern Conference play begins for the Tigers Saturday at South Carolina.
loss to a lackluster opponent — such as the one Missouri (3-1) suffered at home against Indiana this past Saturday — can have that effect. Five players in all will make their first starts of the year against the Gamecocks (3-1). Some of the lineup tweaks are performance related, while others are due to injuries sustained against the Hoosiers.
Major changes at O-line
The most notable changes for Missouri come on the offensive line. Junior Brad McNulty will replace senior Anthony Gatti at left guard. McNulty played the majority of snaps at the position Saturday when Gatti went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, a season-ending knee injury that coach Gary Pinkel said will likely mark the end of Gatti’s collegiate career.
On the right side of the line, Connor McGovern will slide over from tackle to take over the guard spot from Mitch Hall, who struggled Saturday. After playing all 14 games at right guard a season ago, McGovern is well acquainted with the position.
“That won’t be a very big adjustment at all,” McGovern said. “I’ve played a whole year at it. It’s still the right side so my feet are on the same side.”
Junior Taylor Chappell will fill the vacancy left by McGovern at right tackle. Chappell’s first career start comes against a South Carolina defensive line that’s registered only four sacks in as many games. Chappell also got plenty of work in with the first unit during fall camp when McGovern was temporarily sidelined with a pectoral injury.
“That definitely benefited him,” McGovern said of Chappell. “When I was out he was going against (Missouri defensive end Markus Golden) and stuff.”
The unit as a whole will need to regroup if the Tigers hope to take their SEC opener. The two sacks and two quarterback hurries Indiana managed aren’t indicative of the relentless pressure the Hoosiers exerted on Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk.
“Everybody is probably going to play still,” Pinkel said. “But we’re just trying to get the right combination there and see if it works out. We think it has a good chance so we’ll kind of see where it goes.”
White out, Golden back in
For the first time all season, a non-senior will start at receiver for Missouri.
Darius White is out for at least several weeks after straining his groin Saturday. Junior Wesley Leftwich — a Hickman High School graduate — will get the starting nod, but Pinkel said it is likely both Leftwich and redshirt freshmen J’Mon Moore will play “a significant amount of time.”
Together, they will try to fill the shoes of a talented No. 3 wideout in White, who has hauled in 15 balls for 230 yards and three touchdowns this year.
“Those guys have been working, too,” Mauk said. “I know Wesley and I know J’Mon. They’re tremendously fast receivers. They’re probably two of the fastest receivers we have. They can do some things the other guys can’t and we’re going to get them involved.”
On the opposite side of the ball, Golden will return to his regular spot at defensive end following a one-game hiatus. The senior tweaked a hamstring in practice last week and didn’t play Saturday as a result. In three games, Golden has four sacks and 6 ½ tackles for loss.
The only other defensive change is at cornerback, where Kenya Dennis grabbed the starting job from sophomore John Gibson.