Don’t be surprised if later this season, or a couple seasons from now, we look back and label Missouri’s victory over West Virginia on Sept. 7, 2019, as the day linebacker Nick Bolton made his grand entrance.
Only part of that has to do with his pair of interceptions.
Saturday’s game was not Bolton’s first game action — He saw time in all 13 games last season as a true freshman. But Saturday showed a Bolton who could make plays in a variety of ways.
His run defense impressed throughout. One moment, he was knifing through blockers to make a tackle for little to no gain. The next moment, Bolton was flowing down the line of scrimmage to stop a running back from turning up the sideline.
Bolton even chased receiver Sam James down from behind to make the tackle in the first quarter.
His 10 total tackles led the team, but Bolton’s contributions didn’t always show up on the stat sheet.
Bolton displayed power and speed when blitzing through the A-gap. He didn’t have the chance to add a sack to his stat line, but Bolton impressed in the first quarter when he exploded through the middle of the offensive line and planted quarterback Austin Kendall on the turf. Kendall got the pass off, but it fell incomplete. A holding call on Christian Holmes negated the play, but the powerful hit from Bolton led to a cut on Kendall’s hand that needed to be taped, per the ESPN2 broadcast.
When it came to pass coverage, it didn’t take much of a trained eye for fans to notice Bolton’s success. Two interceptions, one of which Bolton returned for a touchdown, provided clear visuals. He was able to make those grabs in part because of his positioning in his zone, something that was solid throughout the game.
Bolton put a lot of good tape together against West Virginia, but he was not perfect. There were occasions where he struggled to shed blockers. The officials also penalized him for being offsides once.
But these are just a couple of blemishes on an overall impressive body of work.
Missouri will have a tough time keeping the sophomore linebacker off the field going forward if he keeps playing like he did Saturday.
Here are some other things we learned from Missouri’s first win of the season:
Don’t read too much into how Missouri used its running backs in the first game
The snap distribution between Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie evened out in the second game of the season after Badie saw more time in the opener.
Rountree logged 31 snaps while Badie had 33 against the Mountaineers. Against Wyoming in the opener, Badie was on the field for 58 snaps while Rountree logged 32.
After the Wyoming game, Missouri coach Barry Odom attributed much of that distribution to the favorable matchup the coaching staff felt Badie presented in the passing game — the Tigers had to play catch up most of the second half in the opener. Odom also said the snap disparity was because Badie was playing better. However, Odom added that he had no worries about Rountree moving forward.
Those words proved to be anything but hollow. Rountree and Badie both played key roles in Missouri’s success against West Virginia.
The snap count evened out for multiple reasons, one of which was that Missouri did not have to pass near as much in the second game of the season, maintaining a lead most of the game.
That favors Rountree, who is a runner first and a pass catcher second, although he did have three receptions Saturday. On the ground, he finished with 99 yards on 18 carries, one of which went for a touchdown. Missouri also returned to using him in short yardage situations.
“He might be as strong of an energy force that we have,” Odom said. “The pulse of our team a lot of times will go with Larry. And that’s in the locker room, that’s on the field, that’s practice habits, that’s his body language. Watching him finishing runs today, that’s what we needed.”
Missouri might have found its No. 3 back
Badie’s fewer snaps didn’t transfer automatically to Rountree. Instead, they went to Dawson Downing.
Downing, a redshirt junior, entered the game in the second quarter and gave Missouri burst and power as well as a breather for Rountree and Badie.
Downing rushed for 57 yards on 10 carries, often dragging defenders with him. In total, he logged 13 snaps.
He might be just what the Tigers need to complement their primary rushers, especially at points in games when defenses are starting to become tired. That’s when Downing’s bruising style will come in handy.
“I don’t know that we can get through the entire season with just those two runners,” Odom said. “I don’t think that’s possible in this league. So we’ve got to continue to develop those guys, and Dawson is as accountable and trustworthy a Mizzou Tiger as there is in our program.”
Downing also logged two snaps at fullback in goal line situations against Wyoming.
Tight end Daniel Parker Jr. is a significant part of the offense
Mentioning the Missouri tight end group usually leads to conversation about Albert Okwuegbunam, and for good reason. He will likely be a high-round NFL draft pick next spring.
But Daniel Parker Jr., the No. 2 tight end, remains an important player for what the Tigers want to do offensively.
Parker played in 52 of Missouri’s 78 offense snaps Saturday compared to Okwuegbunam’s 27. Much of that has to do with the fact that Missouri held a sizable lead most of the game and could rest its starters, but the Tigers used Parker plenty even when they were not leading by 31.
Parker provides value in the passing game and run game, especially as a blocker. He can be a solid receiver, too — He caught an 18-yard pass in tight coverage.
Through two games, Parker has been on the field for 83 of Missouri’s 168 offensive snaps.