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December 23, 2013

Pain and gain



Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent were lost in the shuffle this season.

They were the holdovers after Sheldon Richardson left early for the NFL draft. Hoch came off his first year of playing defensive tackle after moving from tight end following the 2011 season. Vincent tore a pectoral muscle before the 2012 season and while he recovered enough to play, he never fully recovered.

So, in 2013, Hoch and Vincent were lost in the shuffle. Factor in Missouri's defensive ends receiving most of the spotlight this year, and Hoch, Vincent and redshirt freshman Harold Brantley spent most of the season in the shadows.

(Except, of course, for Brantley's 26-yard run on a fake punt.)



Besides a glaring difference in tackles as a group -- Richardson had 75 by himself in 2012 -- Missouri's 2013 defensive tackles basically equalled the 2012 output by the position. They combined for 16.5 tackles for loss this year, falling a half TFL short of last year's total. They combined for 7.5 sacks, equaling last year's position total.

A big reason for those numbers were the play of Hoch, in his second year at the position, and Vincent, who rebounded from that injury to have his best season at Missouri. Both players, however, dealt with injuries for part of the season.

Hoch injured his toe against Indiana, and the injury plagued him all season.

"It's one of those lingering injuries that you're going to have to deal with, play with," Hoch said. "I dealt with it the entire stretch of SEC play. It's going to take two to three weeks, up to a month, of staying off it and then it will get back to normal."

Hoch was able to overcome that injury because of an increased comfort level at the position.

"I knew what I was getting into this year," Hoch said. "I knew what was expected, and that it was going to be a tough, physical season. We had a lot of tough opponents lined up, but I had a lot of good guys to work with and I helped them, they helped me. Obviously out on the edge, we were really good there and it worked both ways."

"He went ten games, only practicing one game a week," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "He played really well. What's he going to do when he practices everyday, he's not hurt and he's going 100 miles an hour? I think he's done a really good job, considering, certainly, what he's been through, but I think he can really get a lot better."

Vincent's injury didn't occur until later in the season, but it may be more grimace-inducing that Hoch's. He looked to be in pain against Ole Miss and Texas A&M, hobbling off the field and needing help to get up on a few plays.

"It wasn't an injury," Vincent said. "I had a kidney stone."

Vincent said he woke up with significant pain on the Thursday night before the bye week. He didn't pass the stone until late Wednesday night, before the SEC Championship game.

He played two full games with a kidney stone, saying he was in constant pain throughout them. However, he said the decision to play was his own -- he tried to keep the ailment quiet.

And when he passed the kidney stone?

"Awful," Vincent said, shaking his head. "It was the worst pain I've ever experienced."

An 11-2 season and a top-ten ranking helped ease the pain for both players. Now, unlike 2012, Missouri will enter the following season by returning its top four defensive tackles from 2013.

In 2014, Hoch, Vincent and Co. may get their season in the spotlight.


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