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December 20, 2013
Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Markus Golden and Shane Ray -- lived up to their billing in 2013.Missouri's quartet of defensive ends --
There were flashes before. Sam got honorable mention recognition for the freshman All-America team in 2010. Ealy was a four-star recruit out of high school. Golden had the Tecmo Bowl highlight film in high school and junior college. Ray had the lineage -- his father, Wendell, played defensive end at Missouri and briefly in the NFL.
Potential and production intersected this year for those four players. In total, they combined for 52 tackles for loss and 27.5 sacks -- 51 and 72-percent of the team total in those two categories.
Looking back, that's likely the legacy of Missouri's 2013 defensive ends. It wasn't an out-of-nowhere performance, but it took plenty by surprise. But in the short-term, there's a blemish on that cumulative effort.
It hangs over the line. War Damn Albatross.
The Auburn game was a low-point for Missouri's season. Missouri's defensive ends aren't looking for redemption in the Cotton Bowl, but the Big Four is looking for a rebound effort in the Big D.
"I think a lot of eyes were on the d-line last game," Sam said, "and I believe the same will be on us against Oklahoma State. I think it will be a challenge for us to show that we were one of the best defensive lines in the country, so we want to step up our game."
Going back to the SEC title game, Missouri's ends aren't willing to break down what went wrong.
"We just got outplayed," Sam said. "The front seven, whoever won the battle of the front seven was going to win that game, and clearly we got outplayed because they won."
"We were kind of disappointed, but at the same time, we weren't arguing with each other," Ealy said. "It was kind of like a team lesson-learned experience for us. We kind of took it, we learned from it and we're moving on."
They move on to Oklahoma State, a team that's given up just 11 sacks all season. That ranks ninth in the nation. It's another strength-vs-strength game for the Tigers' defensive ends. These Cowboys, however, throw the ball more often than Auburn.
It's also the last game for this group of ends as an intact unit. Sam, a redshirt senior, will leave. Ealy said he'll start thinking of his future plans after the bowl game. Golden, a back-up whose production rivals many starters, said the same thing.
All good things end, and that fact isn't lost on this group.
"When you have a great season like this with a bunch of cool guys who work hard," Golden said. "We reminisce about it. We know it's coming to an end. But we've gotta move on. People gotta go to better places, you know?"