Zack Bailey has played great. The test gets tougher this week.
South Carolina’s true freshman starting center was thrown into the fire against Georgia in Athens when Alan Knott suffered a high ankle sprain. He held up well against the Bulldogs and again last week against UCF.
Knott is questionable again for this week’s game at Missouri. If Knott cannot play, Bailey will be going against something he’s never seen before, which is kind of every week when you’re a true freshman offensive lineman.
The Bulldogs and Knights both had above average defensive lines, so it’s not that Bailey is going to see a big jump in the talent level he faces. What he’s facing is more of a mental challenge.
The Tigers will move their defensive lineman around with stunts and exotic formations more than anyone Bailey has seen yet and more than anyone he’s likely to see this season. Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski has been on head coach Gary Pinkel’s staff for 23 years and this offseason turned down a chance to be defensive co-coordinator at Illinois. His Twitter name (@LetsMeetAtTheQB) gives you an idea of Kuligowski’s approach.
The Tigers led the SEC in sacks each of the last two seasons. While they don’t have the kind of defensive line talent they had in the past two years, they’ll still give Bailey all he can handle in identifying who is coming from where.
If Bailey handles it the right way, it’ll be a big help for Lorenzo Nunez, and offensive line coach Shawn Elliott will love Bailey even more than he already does.